sports (2007-45)

Strange Days


What if the Vols were still contenders and nobody cared?

by Tony Basilo

I know itâ’s been a strange season in college football, and at times itâ’s been unwatchable here in Knoxville. These are odd times indeed in Rocky Top. Or should I call it Rocky Tip? Sometimes I wonder.

On the eve of Tennesseeâ’s homecoming game with Louisiana-â“Laugheyette,â” I gave three lucky listeners who came to see the radio show live at Hardeeâ’s in West Knoxville a pair of tickets to the game. Two of the ticket winners wanted to dicker instead of be gracious recipients of their â“prize.â” One â“luckyâ” winner wanted to know if I had any basketball tickets for a prize. I said that I had a pair of tickets to the Tennessee-California of PA exhibition game. He said, â“OK, Iâ’ll take them!â” To which I said, â“Wait a second. You would rather go see a non-competitive exhibition game versus a Division II school than a UT football game?â” He nodded his head sheepishly.

Doesnâ’t that â“luckyâ” listener realize that Tennessee now controls its own destiny in the SEC East? Doesnâ’t he realize that the Volsâ’ mantra has always been â“They remember what you do in November?â” Doesnâ’t he understand that we only have seven chances to watch our beloved Vols strap it on in any one season? Didnâ’t he realize that Tennessee actually had an opponent on its radar that couldnâ’t stop them offensively and one who could be easily defeated?

I know UT basketball is hot and was playing for the first time in the all-new and improved Tommy Bowl, so I shouldnâ’t be so surprised. But has Tennessee football fallen this far? Yeah, itâ’s a strange season, but have you ever seen a fan base this conflicted and divided over a could-be-league-champion Tennessee football team? The Vols control their own destiny in the East. Donâ’t you love the sound of that? Yet the truth is that Phillip Fulmer and staff may be closer to unemployment than they are an SEC title. As for control, letâ’s hope the Vols can control their bladders the final three games of the season and get by with at least a 2-1 finish.

Do you really think this team is capable of winning five straight games to close the campaign? My on-air compadre Beano maintains that Tennessee has a two-game attention span. After the Cal, Florida, â’Bama, and South Carolina debacles, itâ’s tough to argue with that.

The scary thing is that offensive opponents have had career days against Tennessee in 2007. Darren McFadden comes into Neyland Stadium with a 323-yard performance versus South Carolina on Nov. 3 in his hip pocket. Maybe heâ’ll cramp up like Carolinaâ’s Cory Boyd. We can only hope.

Then thereâ’s Vanderbilt, who will go for their second consecutive win in Neyland Stadium. Yes, you just read that correctly.

If Tennessee somehow navigates its way through these two potential disasters, they have a season finale at Lexington versus Kentucky. The Wildcats are officially on the clock now that Navy has beaten Notre Dame. The Midshipmen had to wait 44 years to beat the Irish. Kentucky hasnâ’t tasted victory against UT for going on a quarter century (since â’84). This is the longest winning streak any one team owns over another in college football. With this comes the fact that Tennessee is now 7-5 in November since â’04.

Yet this is the season that South Florida was ranked second in the polls at one time and Michigan lost to Division I-Football Championship Subdivision (Formerly Division I-AA) Appalachian State, which has now lost a couple of games in their own subdivision. This is also the year that unbeatable USC

has lost twice while Cal, which pile-drived UT, has lost three times. Remember juggernaut Florida? They could finish third in the East. Then again, they could be in Atlanta. Expect the unexpected.

None of this couldâ’ve prepared me for the day Iâ’d see a couple of UT fans choose an exhibition basketball game over a regular season football contest. Strange year indeed on Good Olâ’ Rocky Tip.


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