After a college football weekend with more stories than Aesop’s grandfather, it seems a little weird to be talking about Tennessee.
After all, Jerry Jeudy looked incredible, Bo Nix became an instant legend, the SEC’s reputation fell back to Earth and Jalen Hurts made his long-awaited debut. Each one of those storylines is arguably more compelling than anything the Volunteers could have done.
But the subject must be the Volunteers. It has to be.
Not just because UT was upset by a 10-year-old Georgia State program that was 2-10 in 2018. Not just because this Vol season is essentially over after week one. Not just because of the irony surrounding former-coach-now-athletic-director Phil Fulmer who, years ago, once famously predicted Alabama football would “be out of business.”
Nope, it’s all of those reasons combined plus the fact I doubt anyone has a reason to discuss the Vols in an article in the foreseeable future so I better get this in now.
After last Saturday’s humiliation, the Tennessee football program is so precariously close to death my editor considered putting this article in the obituaries.
See, Georgia State didn’t “upset” the Vols; that would imply the victory was unearned and littered with lucky bounces. Georgia State was the better team, period. Only a meaningless late Volunteer touchdown kept the score from essentially being a blowout.
With 11 games left on its schedule — assuming the program doesn’t just save time and wave the white flag during the season — Tennessee might squeak out a paltry three or four victories. If that prediction holds true, it would mean the Vols will miss going to a bowl game for the third consecutive season. Even more telling: UT has been to only three bowls in the last seven seasons (and one of those was in Nashville, Tennessee).
The bleakest news isn’t what’s to come these next few months; it’s what may become of an entire program that unbelievably won a national championship just 20 years ago. The Vols have problems that won’t be fixed quickly — if ever.
It’s easy to assume the right coach getting the right players at the right time (a la Nick Saban when Alabama was on the skids) can turn this thing around. However, the likelihood of Tennessee’s finding a savior close to Saban’s pedigree is more remote than a Neyland Stadium sellout this year.
Second-year coach Jeremy Pruitt isn’t entirely to blame either. While he has certainly underachieved, the culture of disappointment had already been established prior to his arrival. Pruitt has simply maintained that standard. Meanwhile, current recruits don’t remember Tennessee’s past successes because some of those recruits’ parents had not even met yet. Therefore, it’s tough for the Vols to win recruiting battles against the many SEC heavyweights.
To top things off (in rocky fashion), there is more energy in a broken-down Tesla than in the Tennessee fan base. I am not sure why any coach worth a decent buyout would want to take the reins of this program if Pruitt can’t survive.
The bottom line is Tennessee found rock bottom about a decade ago, but, through undeniable perseverance, sheer will and laughable leadership, the Vols drilled even deeper into the abyss and there may not a rope long enough to pull them back up to relevancy.
There is just a glimmer of good news for Tennessee though. It’s not much, but it is something: While the Vols had to pay Georgia State to get beat, the members of the SEC will do it for free.