Co-written by David Bradford
On this week’s Rocky Topics, staff writer Robert Hughes and assistant sports editor David Bradford debate whether or not the hype surrounding Team 120 is good or bad for the Tennessee football program.
Hughes: The hype surrounding the 2016 Tennessee football team, or “Team 120,” is unreal. And yes, that hype is great for the football program. Positivity from the fanbase feeds into the players and the coaches, and that feedback circles back from the program to the fans. With social media, players and coaches can see fans’ reactions and expectations for the year, and they use that as motivation. The Orange and White Game had a turnout of over 67,000 fans despite having over 20 players out for the game. That means that almost two-thirds of Neyland Stadium, one of the largest football stadiums in the country, was filled for a glorified practice. Attendance like that for a spring game is a direct result of fans’ belief in the program, and optimism like that breeds success.
Bradford: Robert, sir, I agree that positivity is an essential ingredient in the cake of success. If you look at last season, there was so much negativity after losses that I was surprised the football team ended the season the way it did. However, what resulted out of that is another season of incredible hype. Remember, there was a lot of hype last season after the Vols won the oh-so-coveted Taxslayer Bowl over Iowa. Heading into last season, the hype was unwarranted, and while the hype is understandable this season, the fans are setting themselves up for another potential let down. It’s a never-ending cycle. There is hype, then losses — leading to irrational rage from the fans — and then more hype after defeating teams like Vanderbilt and Kentucky. When will fans at UT learn their lesson and realize that over-hyping a team ultimately leads to unrealistic expectations, which in turn leads to disappointment?
Hughes: David, why are you talking about cake when the topic is clearly about pie? Cake is delicious… usually. The problem with cake is that you can’t see what is inside. Sure, the icing is enticing and it’s good to serve at parties, but you don’t always know if it’s vanilla or red velvet under all that icing. The difference with pies is that you can see all the ingredients in front of you before you eat it, and you can smell success wafting from a decadent graham cracker crust. Last year’s team was a cake. You didn’t know if Josh Dobbs was going to be able to handle the pressure as the full-time starter. Jalen Hurd had potential, but we didn’t know how much. And after the loss of Curt Maggitt, it was unclear if a leader could step up for the defense. Team 120, on the other hand, is a pie. All those questions have been answered. We know who is expected to lead on the offense and defense and we know we can rely on our now three-headed monster of a running game of Josh Dobbs, Jalen Hurd, and Alvin Kamara. That’s why the hype this year is warranted. There are not delusions of grandeur after a .500 regular season like there was after the TaxSlayer Bowl, like you mentioned. Instead of hype, there is now expectation. I’m not saying this year’s club will win the National Championship, but having a realistic chance at doing so is something most programs only dream of. Thanks for coming to Bob’s Bakery, David. You just got served.
Bradford: Listen here, Robert. you clearly have a fundamental misunderstanding of what delicious dessert this team represents. To say this team is a pie is ab-curd. Sorry, absurd. We still don’t know if Dobbs can handle the pressure because in high-pressure situations last year (i.e. against Oklahoma, Florida and Arkansas) Dobbs crumbled like a crust. His deep-ball accuracy remains a huge question mark, as does the group of wide receivers he will be throwing to. We know what the running backs can do, but how is the offensive line going to perform? Can they stay healthy? The Vols’ defense should be one of the best in the country, but despite returning 17 starters, do we know for sure if the returning starters are ready to take the next step? I’m not so certain, sir. There were too many moments last season that made me question this team’s mental makeup. That’s why this team remains a cake. We don’t know what they’re made of yet and we won’t know until they play both Florida and Alabama in Neyland Stadium this upcoming fall. The hype is bad for the team. Is it really justified to this level? Is this team really a national championship contender? Or are they simply going to cakewalk past a bunch of cupcake SEC East teams, only to be thrown out like under-cooked dough in the SEC title game?
Edited by Nathan Odom
Featured image by Craig Bisacre, courtesy of Tennessee Athletics