KNOXVILLE — The Orange and White game was still more than an hour away Saturday afternoon when a couple of Tennessee football fanatics began debating the upcoming season.
“I predict they’ll go undefeated,” said Dallas Hill of Spring City.
Countered Morristown resident Adam Noe: “We’re going to lose four games.”
Then again, his name is Noe.
Of those two choices, Big Orange boss Phillip Fulmer certainly hopes Hill is correct. An undefeated season would likely erase whatever teensy, tiny bitterness remains from the Vols’ 5-6 debacle in 2005.
Not that last season’s outright Southeastern Conference East Division title — Fulmer’s fifth, by the way — wasn’t appreciated. But you don’t renovate 106,000-seat stadiums, as UT is doing, to win division crowns. You do it to compete for national championships, which an undefeated season would almost certainly accomplish, much as it did in 1998.
Or as defensive back Demetrice Morley noted after the White’s 38-16 win over the Orange: “I think anybody who saw this game could see this team has a lot of playmakers on both sides of the ball. If we just handle our business, I think we can have a special season.”
But can they go undefeated? Or are they headed for four losses? Or somewhere in between?
“I’m happy to get through the game without injury,” Fulmer said later. “Good to see (quarterback) Jonathan (Crompton) in that kind of rhythm. Our No. 2 defensive front (against which Crompton competed 13 of 20 passes for 266 yards and three touchdowns) was disappointing.”
What didn’t disappoint was new offensive coordinator Dave Clawson’s offense, beginning with the first play from scrimmage. That’s how long it took Crompton to unload a 74-yard scoring strike to Denarious Moore. And Crompton’s about to have elbow surgery.
“The last play we implemented during practice,” Clawson said with the slightest of smiles.
By the end of the afternoon they’d implemented a lot of winning plays, including a rollout touchdown toss from wideout-briefly-turned-quarterback Gerald Jones to Moore for 17 yards.
McCallie School product B.J. Coleman even hit Baylor School grad Kevin Cooper for back-to-back completions for 34 yards, obliterating the notion that Blue Tornado and Red Raiders players are as compatible as Yankees and Red Sox.
“Those plays never work in practice,” Clawson said of the Jones-to-Moore TD. “I’m not sure we’ve run it even once this spring. We were just having fun with it. I don’t know that we’d ever use it in a game.”
Memo to the rest of the SEC: Be certain it will be used in a game.
Also expect to see defensive back Eric Berry (Berry Good) on offense far more than once this fall. The best athlete to play football at Tennessee since Jamal Lewis ran only two snaps with the offense this spring, but that didn’t stop Clawson from drooling over him late Saturday afternoon.
“That will be an offseason discussion,” Clawson said. “But I’d love to have Eric for three to five plays a game. He’s a special athlete with special instincts. He’s unique.”
Within two minutes Clawson had increased his dream of having Berry’s talent to “five to eight plays a game.”
With Berry (Berry Good) on offense and defense, the Vols could become special, unique and just plain tough to beat. But beauty is also in the eye of the beholder when it comes to college football in April.
Take the case of Vols offensive guard Anthony Parker. A few minutes after Saturday’s game, Parker asked teammate Arian Foster to cut off the dreadlocks he’d grown since the seventh grade.
You would think his mother Cheryl might rejoice over such a trim. She didn’t.
“I’m the one who did his hair,” she said as she piled shorn dreadlock upon shorn dreadlock into a plastic bag. “But it’s whatever he wants.”
Said Parker: “After 10 years, it’s time for a change.”
Given that this will be the 10th season since the 1998 national championship, Vols fans would no doubt like a change as well. And with the season opener just 134 days from today at UCLA, they’ll soon begin learning whether 2008 will deliver an undefeated season, a four-loss year or somewhere in between.
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...