Sunday, November 27, 2005

Something's Rotten On Rocky Top

I, as well as most who follow college football, believed that Tennessee was a Top 5 team heading into the season. They would feature two capable quarterbacks n Erik Ainge and Rick Claussen. Gerald Riggs was rated as one of the best tailbacks in the country. Robert Meachem and Jayson Swain were regarded as a solid wide out tandem. Jesse Mahelona and Jason Allen would anchor a solid defense. The Volunteers were a popular pick to win the SEC and to even reach the Rose Bowl. But something was wrong, terribly wrong. The writing was on the wall as early as the 17-10 win over UAB. Unfortunately, no one really saw it until the embarassing loss to South Carolina.

What exactly went wrong at Tennessee? I don't know. I can only offer an outsider's point of view. However, as a Penn State fan who watched our proud program crumble to nothing from 2000-2004, I have a fair idea of how something like this happens. And unfortunately for the Vols, the conclusions are not pretty.

It is very rare to see a traditionally successful program like Tennessee or Penn State or Nebraska have a losing season. Penn State had 49 consecutive winning seasons from 1939-1987. The Nittany Lions, and coincidentally Tennessee as well, suffered a 5-6 season in 1988. Both the Lions and Vols rebounded and made it back to bowl games the following season. Nebraska followed up their first non-bowl season since 1968 by going 7-4 this season. However, there are several cases where a 5-6 season is just the beginning of a long decline. Between 1986 and 1997, Texas suffered six non-winning seasons. Between 1992 and 1998, Oklahoma suffered six non-winning seasons including three losing seasons in a row between 1996 and 1998. Both are proud programs that fell on hard times. Obviously Penn State between 2000 and 2004 is another extreme example with four losing seasons in five years after only one losing season under Paterno prior to 2000. Then there are the cases such as Auburn. After losing seasons in 1998 and 1999, the Tigers rebounded to win the SEC West title.

The downfall of a traditionally successful program typically occurs because of one or more of the following- poor recruiting of late, poor coaching, NCAA violations and just bad lcuk. Penn State's downfall was caused by the first two and the last. The Nittany Lions strategy of taking the first players they offered and not waiting on the "big fish" were what produced the 2003 and 2004 seasons. The 2000 and 2001 seasons were just a lot of bad luck. There was more talent there than on the 2003 and 2004 teams. Poor coaching has already been tabbed as a contributing factor after Randy Sanders resigned as offensive coordinator. Obviously bad luck has contributed to it as well. The fumble near the goal line against Alabama and the touchdown by Vanderbilt late in the fourth quarter were two of the biggest.

I think Fulmer will right the program and Tennessee will get back to a bowl next season. There's too much talent at his disposal to suffer another disappointing season like 2005. A couple years from now, 2005 will just be looked back upon as a hiccup, not the new norm.


Blogger J.T. said...

Rogue.........does that mean most all the time successful football programs. Trying to understand how someone from a program that has been in the dumps for the last few years can make that comment about UT, especially when no sanctions or any other disciplinary measures have been taken against our program. Admittedly, we are bad this year, and we had some bad, bad, bad, off-field disciplinary problems, but the rogue program fits Alabama, S. Carolina, Auburn(few years ago) and of course always Florida fans, but not UT.
Better pray you don't draw one of these rogue programs for your bowl game, you will be in trouble.

Monday, November 28, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Normally I'm not one to just drop a post whenever I see something, and admittedly I'm not gonna drop my name here because I'm close to the program, but I feel like there needs to be a comment following JT's. No, all successful programs are not rogue programs. The original post has a little bit of NorthEastern arrogance to it ("we all well as most of the SEC..."), but 1st - frankly this is a blog and we're allowed to say what we want here, and 2nd - I'd love it if Penn State drew UT in a bowl game, 'cause that'd mean we were GOING to one.

After the Nitanny recent history and subsequent turn-around this year, the original author is entitled to a little Big-10 arrogance. I'm a Vol, I've got no plans to stop being a Vol, and I'm still proud to be a Vol in a down year. On and off the field our football teams for the past class and a half have lacked discipline, plain and simple. I feel like Paterno's resurgence and Fulmer's fade-out are related to the same thing - coaching kids. My own opinion is that Coach Fulmer feels like he's done his job when the signed letters come in, and it's the assitants' jobs to teach not only technique but character and work ethic. Paterno on the other hand honestly gives me the impression that he remembers that these are kids, and they haven't got a clue what they're doing - and even more that it's his job to teach them. That's not a popular attitude in a win-now, cut-throat profession, and it takes guts (or a hard head) to stick to your guns when you're losing, but apparently it's working out for him. I can say honestly that I respect it, and more that I wish we had a little more of that in our own backyard.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005  

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