By Frank Gale
Team #117 is done but the senior members were able to walk off the field in their final game victorious. At least they have one positive memory to take with them when they leave Rocky Top. Even with those positive last memories, they have to think about what could have been!
Members of Team #117 will look back and realize that the whole season turned after they upset South Carolina in October. The brutal schedule certainly took its toll, but injuries to playmakers is another reason they will spend bowl season in the weight room and not on the practice field. While this team finished 5-7, when healthy, they sure played better than that record.
Now, the immediate future of Tennessee football belongs to Team #118. One concern is they will be short on experience and depth in the trenches where games are ultimately won or lost. This will be a major concern for Coach Butch Jones and his staff as they reload for 2014.
It certainly does not get easier for the next team to don the orange or gray in 2014. The schedule once again will be a challenge. It may not be as difficult as this season’s, but that might require an upset along the way to return to the practice field in December.
National Signing Day will be the next big event for this coaching staff as they continue to rebuild the program — brick by brick. Josh Malone, a five-star wide receiver from Gallatin, TN, committing to play for the Vols this week makes the incoming recruiting class even stronger. Getting excited about the No. 2 nationally-ranked recruiting class is great; however, Butch Jones has to put an end to losing seasons — difficult schedule or not.
In case anyone has failed to notice, basketball season has started. Both the Lady Vols and the Big Orange have deep, talented teams this year. The Lady Vols have continued their winning ways from last season, but the men have struggled in a few of their early games. The Vols should be better as the season progresses and they have already avenged an earlier loss to Xavier.
The Vols still are struggling with consistent scoring, something that has haunted Cuonzo Martin’s teams since his arrival at UT. In a few of the early games, the Big Orange has looked more like a dysfunctional group than a solid cohesive team. Hopefully, the new comers will blend with the returning players and make a skeptical Big Orange Nation proud again.
The Vols will entertain Tennessee Tech tomorrow at 11 a.m. CST and the Lady Vols return to action Sunday against Texas at 1 p.m. CST. Once again, basketball will serve as a needed diversion for the Big Orange Nation until spring practice rolls around.
I truly felt that this was the year that a bowl game would be occupying our thoughts in December. Sadly, a few inches made all the difference and a deserving fan base is left on the outside watching rivals participate in bowl games. Meanwhile, Team#118 toils in the weight room preparing to reverse the bowl void next season. Go Vols and Lady Vols!
(Frank Gale is a Chronicle correspondent and his column appears regularly.)