You can feel everybody in Knoxville, including fans, media and especially a certain head coach fond of wearing orange pants, preparing themselves for a loss to Vandy.
The Vols, the story goes, are far less experienced than the Commodores, and thanks to the nefarious Lane Kiffin have been stripped of talent. It’ll take a couple of years at least to rebuild.
Meanwhile, James Franklin, who seems more grounded to his home planet than does Derek “Feed the Orange Dog” Dooley, has inherited an experienced and surprisingly talented team.
There’s an element of truth to all of this, and some Vandy fans are already celebrating what they think is an inevitable victory in Knoxville, and some Vols season ticket holders are planning to sit this one out.
But the truth remains that Tennessee has no business losing to Vandy. I love it when people ask James Franklin about the “rivalry” with Tennessee. After repeating his well-known philosophy about six seconds and one game at a time, he says that it may be a rivalry for Vanderbilt but it’s not much of a rivalry for Tennessee.
Think about it. Who are Tennessee’s rivals? Alabama and Florida. And they now finish their season with Kentucky, which has been much more competitive than we have over the past decade.
Would Vols fans be poor-mouthing their team if they were 1-point underdogs to Alabama or Florida? No way. They’d have started tailgating days ago.
So is Vandy more experienced than Tennessee? Yes. Vandy starters, on average, are redshirt juniors, while the Vols are redshirt sophomores. The Commodores have eight senior starters to the Vols four, while the Vols have six true freshman starters to zero for the Dores.
Now what about talent? Despite all the talent that’s either transferred from Knoxville or been removed by the long arm of the law, the Vols starters had an average of 3.3 stars from Scouts when they were being recruitied, while the Vandy starters had an average of 2.2 stars. In fact, UT has more 4 and 5 star starters than Vandy has 3 star starters.
Sure, stars don’t matter much. Just don’t try to say that Vandy has the same caliber of talent as the Vols. We’re improving our talent at a rapid rate, and yes, Franklin has a far more talented team than the one Bobby Johnson inherited in 2002. But Tennessee is still bigger, faster, stronger and has more playmakers on both sides of the ball than we do.
Just look at the offensive lines. Vandy’s O-line averages 290 pounds. UT’s averages 320 pounds.
Can we win this game? Absolutely. But as game time approaches, we need to keep things in perspective. Tennessee has far more talent than any team we’ve beaten this year, and we’re playing them on the road, where James Franklin has never won a game as a head coach.
The Vols could have a breakout game and easily win this thing. At least, that’s what a student of history would say. But it appears that Franklin’s Commodores are having the kind of year that laughs in the face of history.
My point is, it’s not a done deal. We’re going to have to wait until it happens, and hopefully it will happen tonight.