By Frank Gale
Tennessee football is definitely the main topic of discussion throughout Big Orange Country, with just over a month until the Vols kick off the season in Atlanta against North Carolina State. Aug. 31 can’t get here quick enough for most Vol fans that are banking on this being a turnaround season for UT. With predictions running the gamut from another terrible season to a contender in the SEC East, it is time to let this season play out on the field.
Those who are still off the Dooley bandwagon will be jumping on if the Vols head in the right direction this season. But if things go awry in the fall, you can bet that there will be plenty of room on that wagon by season’s end. It doesn’t mean that Coach Dooley can’t survive another un-Vol like campaign. But if that happens, there better be plenty of factors outside his control if he plans on spending 2013 in Knoxville.
This season the optimism is not without foundation, with the Vols returning one of the most experienced teams in the SEC. Not only is this team experienced, but they are the product of four top 20 classes including the 2009 and 2010 classes that were ranked No.10 and No. 9 nationally by Rivals.com. Finally, Coach Dooley can put talent, experience and depth on the field.
This year fans will be treated to a new philosophy on the defensive side of the ball. An attacking defense under new Defensive Coordinator Sal Sunseri will have the Vols flying around and making opposing offenses execute their game plans under duress. Exciting to watch for sure and a welcome change from the Wilcox "bend but don’t brake" schemes the past two years.
The offense is the best reason to think the Vols can break through this season. A healthy Tyler Bray will be protected by an experienced offensive line with a new “O” line coach, Sam Pittman, who should improve the run blocking technique.
When you add skilled receivers that can break a game open at any time, from any place on the field, it is no wonder the Big Orange Nation can’t wait for this season to get started.
With the good also come a few obstacles.
The Vols will be looking to get off to a fast start, which will mean breaking the recent Georgia Dome jinx in their first game. The Vols have not left Atlanta with a win since the 1998 national championship season. Since that magical season, the Vols have three losses in SEC championship games and another three losses to ACC opponents in their Peach Bowl appearances.
Fall camp is on the door step and fans are digging out their best Orange attire. The Vols have the potential to be very successful this year; however, it will be up to them to seize the moment and reward a great fan base that has weathered some difficult times. Meanwhile, I can’t wait to hear Rocky Top rock the ‘Dome’ next month. Go Vols!
(Frank Gale is a Chronicle correspondent and his column appears regularly.)