When nonconference, AQ (automatic qualifying) opponents have come calling on the schedule over the last four years, the Tennessee Volunteers have nonetheless disappointed Big Orange Country in almost every way possible.
There was Cal’s impressive offensive showing in 2007 in a redemption 45-31 win, led by future NFL players Justin Forsett, Lavelle Hawkins, and DeSean Jackson.
There was Daniel Lincoln’s missed overtime field goal in 2008, as UCLA shocked the then No. 18 ranked Volunteers 27-24, despite Bruin quarterback Kevin Craft’s four first half interceptions.
Arguably the most painful of them all was the 2009 defeat, yet again at the hands of the Bruins, even though UCLA didn’t produce a single touchdown in route to a 19-15 victory.
Finally, there was last year’s 48-13 shellacking at the hands of the eventual National Champion runner up Oregon; a game that saw Tennessee shutout in the second half while giving up 45 unanswered points to the Ducks.
So what do all these recent letdowns mean as the men in orange and white prepare to take the field Saturday against Big East’s University of Cincinnati? It means that the unproven and inexperienced Volunteers (1-0, 0-0) of 2011 have no business taking the Bearcats (1-0, 0-0) lightly despite the conference’s ongoing criticism for producing substandard opponents.
“I was at the two games on the West Cost and the two at home,” replied longtime Volunteer season ticket holder Peter Rakoczy. “I haven’t missed a game in 30 years, and those four as a whole were some of the worst losses I have ever witnessed.”
“If coach Dooley doesn’t keep the team focused and humble, along with stressing the importance of this contest and that this isn’t just another game, then the Bearcats could sneak up on the Vols,” added Rakoczy. “It would be a hard defeat to swallow.”
On the flipside, if Tennessee can perform at its highest potential, use the crowd to their advantage, build of off last week’s success, and receive another good outing from both sides of the ball, then the Volunteers will score a huge moral victory even though the media won’t necessarily recognize it.
“A big time showing on national television versus a solid football team could do wonders for this young squad,” Rakoczy commented. “It doesn’t really matter if the college football world downgrades the quality of Big East football, it would be a huge.”
Not only would Tennessee solidify a strong, resume-building win with a triumph over UC, but a solid performance, specifically from quarterback Tyler Bray, would also generate even more confidence and trust in the sophomore from the entire coach staff. This will be highly crucial for the Big Orange, as an always treacherous trip to Gainesville is next no matter what this weekend’s outcome produces. The last two seasons, the Volunteers faced the Gators immediately following those aforementioned nonconference losses, and have been outscored 54-30, resulting in two defeats.
Oh yeah, those dedicated members of Rocky Top don’t need another year of misery when the established out of conference squads roll around. Four seasons in a row is mighty plenty.