John Adams: History says N.C. State is a must-win game

John Adams

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Daniel Hood on the beginning of the Vols' fall camp

Football coaches don't embrace the phrase "must-win game." So please don't mention to Tennessee coach Derek Dooley that I referred to this season's opener against N.C. State as a "must-win game."

Even as I write that, I'm well aware of the counterpoint. No matter what transpires in the first game, a team still could finish 11-1 or 1-11.

Teams have lost their first game and won a national championship. Teams have won their first game and lost everything else.

But there's more relevant history to consider when suggesting that it would be in the Vols' best interests (a euphemism for "must-win game") to win their season opener in the Georgia Dome.

Once the Vols lose an early season non-conference game, fame and glory rarely are waiting in the wings.

In 2010, they lost to Oregon in the second game. They finished 6-7.

In 2009, they lost to UCLA in the second game. They finished 7-6.

In 2008, they lost their opener to UCLA. They finished 5-7.

Still think the Aug. 31 game against N.C. State isn't a must-win game?

In the last 28 years, UT has lost an early season game to a non-conference opponent six times. Its record for those seasons is 41-34. Not once did it have fewer than four losses, and three times it had losing records.

Go back further and you will find similar results.

In the last 40 years, UT has lost an early game to a non-conference opponent 14 times. Only once did it lose fewer than four games (9-3 in 1983).

The correlation between non-conference losses and less than sensational seasons is hardly surprising for any SEC program. If you can't beat someone from outside the conference, how can you expect to flourish in a league as tough as this one?

A top-10 non-conference opponent would qualify as an exception. But only one of Tennessee's last six early-season, non-conference losses came to a top-10 teams; three of the six losses came to un-ranked opponents.

The flip side to UT's opener is more encouraging for its fans. In the last 25 years, early-season, non-conference games have sometimes served as turning points for the better.

Coming off a 5-6 season in 1988, UT overpowered sixth-ranked UCLA 24-6 in the second game of the 1989 season. The Vols were off and running to an 11-1 season.

After a 5-6 season in 2005, UT overwhelmed ninth-ranked Cal in the 2006 season opener. The Vols won eight more games that season and 10 in 2007.

Now, more than ever, the Vols need a pivotal victory. They have had three losing records in the last four seasons. They haven't won more than seven games since 2007.

They could lose to N.C. State and still have a turnaround season. But history tells us they won't.

John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or adamsj@knoxnews.com. Follow him at http://twitter.com/johnadamskns

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Comments » 34

coach799 writes:

C'mon, John. This is only the 29th article about the need to start fast. Pitiful.

GO VOLS!! BEAT NCS!

PUL4VOLS writes:

YAWN, YAWN, and more YAWNS; every game should be looked on as a must win each year. That way the team will surely give its best effort over and over again. I am no big Olympics fan but the games seem more interesting than this.

FlaVol2 writes:

And history is never a good indication of future events.

gc_scvol writes:

You know, if I weren't afraid of having my comment removed, I'd probably say something like this was another frail attempt to garner attention by whomever wrote this article. I don't find it very good reading for VOL FANS. All history can tell you what has happpened, not what is happening or what could happen in the future GBO VFL WE NEED POSITIVE THOUGHT, NOT GLOOM AND DOOM

VolinCalif writes:

in response to gc_scvol:

You know, if I weren't afraid of having my comment removed, I'd probably say something like this was another frail attempt to garner attention by whomever wrote this article. I don't find it very good reading for VOL FANS. All history can tell you what has happpened, not what is happening or what could happen in the future GBO VFL WE NEED POSITIVE THOUGHT, NOT GLOOM AND DOOM

No one can deny that is no certainty. But I find the facts John is pointing out very interesting. First like he says the SEC teams don't worry very much about teams that lose to non-Conf. teams. I think he is suggesting that that The SEC losing team looses it confidence and the other SEC teams take full advantage of that. Just a thought.

Classof72 writes:

This is sort of backwards thinking. A football team isn't good because it wins. It wins because it's good. It's not exactly rocket science to figure out that teams that lose their first game against a decent opponent tend not to do as well as those that win the first difficult game.

Dooley's Vol teams have tended to be a day late and a dollar short, so maybe if they're better this year they can have a good season even if they drop the opener. Georgia did so last year, but that's another story.

CrankE writes:

So let me get this straight:

If Tennessee wins, they might could be good (or not). If Tennessee loses, they might be bad (or not).

That's some hard hitting, penetrating insight there Little Debby. How's the whine-in lawsuit and media campaign against Dave Hart going? You get your old job back yet or is John Adams still letting you ghostwrite for him at KNS?

signalcorps writes:

To me dooley's a good D1 coach he's not a D1-A coach yet.....SEC is big time

madmax22 writes:

Just another article proving the KNS sports dept has the IQ two points below a grape.

CrankE writes:

in response to madmax22:

Just another article proving the KNS sports dept has the IQ two points below a grape.

What did the grapes ever do to you!?

wagee12 writes:

Yawn, ZZZZZZZ, yawn again, a must win against a mediocre ACC team whose coach has a losing record in that conference after five years at the school. Underwhelming. Tennessee 38, NCST. 10.

DeltaCharlie3 writes:

Here's a better way to look at it. Beating NC State is the difference between starting 2-1 or 1-2.

manniesghost1903 writes:

In my opinion an article on the obvious is not much of a story. Everyone realizes an opening game against an opponent in another major conference is important. Especially, when the previous year's performance left a lot to be desired.

utsensei writes:

in response to DeltaCharlie3:

Here's a better way to look at it. Beating NC State is the difference between starting 2-1 or 1-2.

You mean the difference between 2-1 or 3-0

ProfessionalHandicapper writes:

Good homework John. I like people to back up words with meaningful stats. The biggest problem I see is the new coaches. I always look for teams early with at least 17 returning starters, an experienced QB, and a coaching staff that has been running the same system for 4 years or more. UT fits two of three, but all the changes in the coaching will not be easy come game day. If UT can't run vs NC State, the season is done. They will be 1-9 by the end of Sept in the SEC the last 10. Everyone knows UT can throw so defenses will game plan that, the running game will be the issue. No SEC team wins Championships with all the speed in the defensive backfields by purely passing. You gotta be able to play smash mouth football. I don't believe UT can play smash mouth with the big boys. Its just hard to go from 1 yard per carry and become a good running team when the RB's are very average and nobody new is on the OL. If UT can't run vs a middle of the road ACC team it will be a long year.

jfink45 writes:

I hate to agree with john but feel this is the biggest game in a while for the Vols. N C State is all they need to think about now. It's interesting that N C State is ahead of us in the polls but the Vols are favored by 4 in Vegas. Could it be that Tennessee fans are putting their money on the Vols and skewing the betting odds.

PennVol writes:

How 'bout when you have a bad team, you're likely to lose your first game?

gc_scvol writes:

in response to ProfessionalHandicapper:

Good homework John. I like people to back up words with meaningful stats. The biggest problem I see is the new coaches. I always look for teams early with at least 17 returning starters, an experienced QB, and a coaching staff that has been running the same system for 4 years or more. UT fits two of three, but all the changes in the coaching will not be easy come game day. If UT can't run vs NC State, the season is done. They will be 1-9 by the end of Sept in the SEC the last 10. Everyone knows UT can throw so defenses will game plan that, the running game will be the issue. No SEC team wins Championships with all the speed in the defensive backfields by purely passing. You gotta be able to play smash mouth football. I don't believe UT can play smash mouth with the big boys. Its just hard to go from 1 yard per carry and become a good running team when the RB's are very average and nobody new is on the OL. If UT can't run vs a middle of the road ACC team it will be a long year.

You have been exposed, unprofesssional handicapped , and now everyone knows who you are and that you have no creditability. Just wondering, still got your office in the bowling alley or arcade or where ever?

Navaloranges writes:

in response to ProfessionalHandicapper:

Good homework John. I like people to back up words with meaningful stats. The biggest problem I see is the new coaches. I always look for teams early with at least 17 returning starters, an experienced QB, and a coaching staff that has been running the same system for 4 years or more. UT fits two of three, but all the changes in the coaching will not be easy come game day. If UT can't run vs NC State, the season is done. They will be 1-9 by the end of Sept in the SEC the last 10. Everyone knows UT can throw so defenses will game plan that, the running game will be the issue. No SEC team wins Championships with all the speed in the defensive backfields by purely passing. You gotta be able to play smash mouth football. I don't believe UT can play smash mouth with the big boys. Its just hard to go from 1 yard per carry and become a good running team when the RB's are very average and nobody new is on the OL. If UT can't run vs a middle of the road ACC team it will be a long year.

Thanks brett. After your "professional" assessment, I have more faith in our running game than ever now.

Stooley_Dinks writes:

Bash John Adams all you want - his monogram is suspect - but, Dooley needs to pay for the KY loss a little longer. That cow flop milkshake needs to marinate until he can't take it anymore. The Winners in the coaching world are the ones that figure out how to gut out a close game...how to manufacture a win...how to deliver a heart wrenching loss to KY when it looks bleak. That is the cost of being a Vol coach. If you don't like it, QUIT!!!

But every great person has a loss or failure in their past that drives them to greatness. Every loser has a failure that defines them....forever...as a loser.

It is time and I mean NOW to walk out without stupid orange pants, goofy cliches/analogies, or excuses and flip off the college football world! There can be absolutely NO RESEMBLANCE to EITHER of Dooley's first 2 teams. Beat the stink out of NC ST, unplug, and run. Dooley has made NUMEROUS goofball decisions, resulting in highlight reels for the other team since he became our coach. He was sorely unqualified for the job and proved it. But, most people don't get more than one gift of an opportunity, if any, in their lifetime.

So John is right, like it or not, about NC ST. If Dooley cannot find a way to "mark" our territory in that game, then he has not stepped up to the challenge. If he does, then he will shift momentum in his favor and ANY VOL coach that has a taste of that juice won't give it up.

laraccoon writes:

in response to Stooley_Dinks:

Bash John Adams all you want - his monogram is suspect - but, Dooley needs to pay for the KY loss a little longer. That cow flop milkshake needs to marinate until he can't take it anymore. The Winners in the coaching world are the ones that figure out how to gut out a close game...how to manufacture a win...how to deliver a heart wrenching loss to KY when it looks bleak. That is the cost of being a Vol coach. If you don't like it, QUIT!!!

But every great person has a loss or failure in their past that drives them to greatness. Every loser has a failure that defines them....forever...as a loser.

It is time and I mean NOW to walk out without stupid orange pants, goofy cliches/analogies, or excuses and flip off the college football world! There can be absolutely NO RESEMBLANCE to EITHER of Dooley's first 2 teams. Beat the stink out of NC ST, unplug, and run. Dooley has made NUMEROUS goofball decisions, resulting in highlight reels for the other team since he became our coach. He was sorely unqualified for the job and proved it. But, most people don't get more than one gift of an opportunity, if any, in their lifetime.

So John is right, like it or not, about NC ST. If Dooley cannot find a way to "mark" our territory in that game, then he has not stepped up to the challenge. If he does, then he will shift momentum in his favor and ANY VOL coach that has a taste of that juice won't give it up.

sounds like folklore , the ballad of Ol' Dooley . It was touching , pass the tissue please .

BluezVol writes:

Trolls, trolls and more trolls....or...people who have a room-temperature IQ and little if any football knowledge not gleaned from watching Hollywood movies such as "Rudy", "Remember the Titans", etc.

I'll be glad when UT hangs 40 on NCST and starts 1-0. Perhaps you'll go away... but then again, you probably won't. You'll need to come back on here and engage in what you call your life.

tovolny writes:

This is John's way of getting the point across that we (the team) need to excel in practice and definitely must not take this NC State Team (rated higher than us) lightly. And, we the fans should brace ourselves for a possible disappointing outcome. This is how John rolls...he brings up the negative, stiff hairs that we can't comb over. Just remember, John is still a Vol fan.

tanasi2 writes:

Bash Adams all you want but he is correct! If the Vols can't run, this will be a losing year! You have to have a balanced attack OR you need to have a great running game! A passing only team cannot win in the SEC! Even Spurrier's Florida teams could run the ball! Spurrier had a balanced attack with a great passing game!

MetroplexMojo writes:

in response to jfink45:

I hate to agree with john but feel this is the biggest game in a while for the Vols. N C State is all they need to think about now. It's interesting that N C State is ahead of us in the polls but the Vols are favored by 4 in Vegas. Could it be that Tennessee fans are putting their money on the Vols and skewing the betting odds.

Or it could be that oddsmakers know more about football than the sportswriters who continue to vote teams such as ND in the top 25 every year.

thevoice writes:

in response to tanasi2:

Bash Adams all you want but he is correct! If the Vols can't run, this will be a losing year! You have to have a balanced attack OR you need to have a great running game! A passing only team cannot win in the SEC! Even Spurrier's Florida teams could run the ball! Spurrier had a balanced attack with a great passing game!

Amen. Add the kicking game in there too. Crossing my fingers on the D.

Basketvol writes:

in response to ProfessionalHandicapper:

Good homework John. I like people to back up words with meaningful stats. The biggest problem I see is the new coaches. I always look for teams early with at least 17 returning starters, an experienced QB, and a coaching staff that has been running the same system for 4 years or more. UT fits two of three, but all the changes in the coaching will not be easy come game day. If UT can't run vs NC State, the season is done. They will be 1-9 by the end of Sept in the SEC the last 10. Everyone knows UT can throw so defenses will game plan that, the running game will be the issue. No SEC team wins Championships with all the speed in the defensive backfields by purely passing. You gotta be able to play smash mouth football. I don't believe UT can play smash mouth with the big boys. Its just hard to go from 1 yard per carry and become a good running team when the RB's are very average and nobody new is on the OL. If UT can't run vs a middle of the road ACC team it will be a long year.

"Good homework John." When I first read that, I thought it was sarcasm. I could have done research for this article in about five minutes with a simple Google search. Speaking of research, if you are saying "they will be 1 - 9 by the end of Sept" (This was a confusing sentence, is that what you meant to say?), then you might want to research the schedule. If Dooley looses nine games by the end of September, after coaching only five, I will get on the fire Dooley train for sure!

Regarding the article, I don't think the performance of past teams has anything to do with the performance of this team. The way the current players respond to a loss (if this happens) has everything to do with the mindset of the current players and the team dynamic NOW.

Basketvol writes:

in response to RockyMountainVol:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Thanks for the translation. I had a hard time deciphering that one. It's been a long day!

To professional(hah!)handicapper: I don't care about last season's record. It's a new season and I think it will be an improved team.

mocsandvolsfan writes:

in response to RockyMountainVol:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Please PLEASE! We should really call "prohandicap" the politically correct name. Prochallenged. I mean let's be sensitive here.

Jakevol writes:

John is right, it is a must game,. Looking at the Vols Schedule, they really need to win this game if they are to go to a bowl this year. NCSU history ( I've watched them for years ) is a come from behind team. Right when you think their beat, they come from behind and win the game. Their by no means a push over and would love nothing more than to beat the Vols. This is must game for NCSU too.

Navaloranges writes:

in response to WaltGoVols:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Funny you post that on a post nay-saying gloom and doom. Your agenda is to be as defamatory as possible to UT, it's players, and it's coach. Yet you claim to be a UT fan. You're nothing but a small person airing out your personal grievances on a fan web site. Your "wally facts" are nothing but twisted spinnings turned around to fit your childish agenda. I think you just like the attention. There is no gain for you, nobody buys the BS you're shoveling, and everybody on here, except the other FRAUDS, think you're nothing but a JOKE.

In summary, you're (1), convincing NOBODY that is a true fan, to follow your silly spun agenda. (2) you're wasting everybody's time, including yours, for the sake of attention. (3) No REAL UT FAN gives a rats backside what you think, we all know it's all based on your unhealthy obsession of our FORMER coach.

Our team WAS AN UNMITIGATED DISASTER when Dooley arrived.

Dooley WILL turn it back around.

FHCPF is NOT coming back.

Dooley WILL be here a long time.

GET USED TO IT, wally.

Navaloranges writes:

in response to RockyMountainVol:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

"...he decides on what the end result will/should be and THEN he twists all sorts of stats around to justify his conclusion."

This goes for the two uf kids dc and zz, as well as jf. Let's break it down this morning and review.

There are two uf juveniles, jf, brett, and wally on here 24/7. This is a Vol site, they are NOT Vol fans, even though one of them's brother was a real UT player that actually counted for something. So we have a grand total of FIVE, that's 5 people, with a grand total of more than TWENTY-FIVE, that's 25 screen names. All invented to discredit ONE UNIVERSITY on ONE WEBSITE.

Yes folks, there are actually people out there with this much free time on their hands, and that big of an ax to grind with one institution, for one absurd reason or another. It IS a sad, sad world for some.

gc_scvol writes:

in response to WaltGoVols:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

And you are the difference between a true Vol fan and an imposter. Live with it . YOU ARE IRREVELANT...

exlineman writes:

in response to ProfessionalHandicapper:

Good homework John. I like people to back up words with meaningful stats. The biggest problem I see is the new coaches. I always look for teams early with at least 17 returning starters, an experienced QB, and a coaching staff that has been running the same system for 4 years or more. UT fits two of three, but all the changes in the coaching will not be easy come game day. If UT can't run vs NC State, the season is done. They will be 1-9 by the end of Sept in the SEC the last 10. Everyone knows UT can throw so defenses will game plan that, the running game will be the issue. No SEC team wins Championships with all the speed in the defensive backfields by purely passing. You gotta be able to play smash mouth football. I don't believe UT can play smash mouth with the big boys. Its just hard to go from 1 yard per carry and become a good running team when the RB's are very average and nobody new is on the OL. If UT can't run vs a middle of the road ACC team it will be a long year.

Brett Roberts, after reading your continued posting on here with so many different screen names starting out as (can't stand saban) I've found your so full of yourself you couldn't post an intelligent post.

After viewing your facebook site and going into your girlfriends site and reading some of her outrageous bitterness towards Chic filet, I have come to the conclusion that she must write your posts for you, as both of you seem to be three bricks shy of a load.

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