Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

January 9, 2014

ROCKY TOP BEAT: 2014 promises to be a better year for UT sports

By Frank Gale
Chronicle correspondent

CROSSVILLE — Welcome to 2014, a year that holds the promise of a better sports year for the Volunteers. This week, 14 members of the highly touted incoming football recruiting class arrived at UT to enroll for the spring semester. The early enrollment will certainly give this part of the 2014 class a jump start on their fellow members that will arrive in the fall. Look for many of the early enrollees to contribute on the field in the fall after benefiting from spring practice. 

Speaking of spring practice, the annual Orange-White Game is only a mere 92 days away. Circle April 12 on your calendars for the first glimpse at some of the special players that will be wearing orange this fall. Having two tight ends enroll early should help Butch Jones to institute more of his offense for next season. Linebacker A.J. Johnson returning for another year will help the defense, too. 

While we wait for the rest of the incoming class to sign in February, there is another team wearing orange that needs support. Basketball now has the big stage for a while and it seems that there is enough talent on this year’s roster to get Vol fans excited. A players-only meeting has this team refocused and playing their best basketball of the season, just in time for conference play.

A blow out win at LSU in the conference opener Tuesday was a great start for the Big Orange. This win could also carry weight at the end of the season when the NCAA Selection Committee decides which SEC teams get to participate in the “Big Dance." 

The modest winning streak has reached four with Texas A&M due to make an appearance tomorrow at 5 p.m. CST. Winning on the road in the SEC is huge but it will be wasted if the Vols fail to win on their home court tomorrow. Time to give the Aggies a big “Howdy," Vol style! 

The Vols have a great opportunity to get off to a fast start in the SEC this coming week with Auburn also coming to Knoxville on Wednesday night. If the Vols hope to exchange the NIT for the NCAA Tournament, winning the home conference games is almost a must. 

The Lady Vols stumbled in their SEC home opener this year against LSU. Not exactly what Holly Warlick had in mind on the night they retired Candace Parker’s No. 3 jersey. Next up for the No. 8 Lady Vols is in-state rival Vanderbilt on Sunday in Nashville. Expect a large contingent of fans wearing orange to be in attendance for this one. 

Now, the Vol Nation needs to create that special home court environment that will make Knoxville an unpleasant stop for SEC opponents. The Vols and Lady Vols have the chance to pave the way for what could be a very special 2014 sports year on Rocky Top. Go Vols and Lady Vols!!!

(Frank Gale is a Chronicle correspondent and his column appears regularly.)