LOS ANGELES - So, you are no doubt wondering, where does the Brotherhood of the Traveling Orange Pants go from here?
College football season-openers are often fraught with surprises. That's especially true when so many unknown elements are stirred into the mix, as was the case this year for Tennessee.
New quarterback. New offensive coordinator with a new offense.
An unfamiliar opponent with a new coach, new quarterback, new . . . etc.
And yet for all that newness, the Vols' 27-24 loss to UCLA up the freeway in Pasadena still qualifies as stunning.
UCLA is on the ground floor of a rebuilding project under new coach Rick Neuheisel. Tennessee was supposed to be a lot better.
Instead, the two sides were so closely matched it came down to a couple of similar field-goal attempts in overtime to separate them.
That obviously bodes poorly for a team living in the toughest division of the toughest conference in college football.
The team we saw Monday night will be 0-3 in SEC play by mid-October. If it can't beat a patchwork UCLA outfit, it can't expect to beat Florida, Georgia or Auburn.
However, there is this:
The teams we see in season-openers aren't necessarily the teams we will see in weeks to come. There will be less newness as the grind unfolds.
The interesting part will be observing how the Tennessee team we saw Monday night is going to mature - and how quickly.
UAB, the Vols' next opponent, is too awful to be a fair barometer. Florida comes to Neyland Stadium on Sept. 20. That's when Tennessee must emerge from a phone booth a changed team, ready to leap potential national champions in a single bound.
There are questions to be answered across the board. These come to mind:
Can the defense counter the adjustments an opponent makes during the game?
UT's defense dominated the first half and held its own in the third quarter. In the fourth quarter, UCLA's third-string quarterback, Kevin Craft completed 12 of 14 passes in two touchdown drives.
While we're on the defense, one sack against an offensive line UCLA cobbled together with extras from the back lot at Universal Studios?
The kicking game gave up a touchdown in the form of a blocked punt. UCLA got to that one so easily I'm not sure having Britton Colquitt (who is suspended for five games) would have made any difference.
Daniel Lincoln made one clutch field goal, then missed an easier one in overtime. As a freshman in 2007 he started his career 8-for-8. He starts his sophomore year 1-for-4. Go figure.
Moving to offense, Dave Clawson's debut as offensive coordinator clearly wasn't as boffo as Norm Chow's was for UCLA.
It's folly to judge Clawson's system on one game. But being curious, we wonder if the running game should have gotten more calls, considering UT averaged a healthy 5.2 yards per rush while quarterback Jonathan Crompton was struggling.
Furthermore, in light of Arian Foster's fumbling issue resurfacing at the worst possible time, it'll be interesting to see if hard-running Montario Hardesty becomes a more trusted option.
Saving the most salient issue for last, there is Crompton. It would likewise be folly to judge the junior quarterback on one game.
If UCLA's Craft can morph from chump to champ during a mere halftime, Crompton can certainly shake off a poor opener and turn out to be a good trigger man for the Vols.
Maybe he will, maybe he won't. His erratic throwing Monday night, though, was at least a reality check for those who assumed he would be an improvement on UT's recent quarterbacking history.
In the bigger picture, Monday night was a reality check for anyone who assumed Tennessee was quietly on par with alleged superpowers Florida or Georgia.
But opening games don't always tell the whole story of a team. If you wear orange, pants or otherwise, you can only hope that's the case here.
Mike Strange may be reached at email@example.com or 865-342-6276.