Not all Tennessee fans believe their team is doomed to a fourth consecutive losing season. Some actually foresee moderate improvement in the record as well as an upset of significance.
You can’t blame them. As awful as the Vols have been for the past three seasons, they have come tantalizingly close to upending nationally ranked opponents.
In 2010, former coach Derek Dooley’s first season, they lost to 12th-ranked LSU on the last play of the game.
Last year, they lost to fifth-ranked Georgia 51-44 and to 17th-ranked South Carolina 38-35 on the road. Both teams wound up in the top 10.
This season will offer plenty of upset opportunities.
Five of Tennessee’s opponents have been ranked in at least one preseason top 10. And all five should be solid favorites against the Vols.
But a solid favorite loses almost every weekend in this sport. Maybe it’s Tennessee’s turn to be on the right side of one of those upsets.
So let’s find the candidate most likely to cooperate.
It’s probably safe to eliminate Oregon. Not only will the third-ranked Ducks have the home-field advantage, the Vols will have to fly all the way across the country.
The Ducks won’t fly until they get the ball. Their up-tempo, spread offense could be a nightmare for an unproven defense.
Don’t bother looking for an upset in Tuscaloosa, Ala., either. The Tide is equipped to win a third consecutive national championship.
In fact, when you match up Alabama’s potent passing attack against a UT defense with a questionable pass rush and a vulnerable secondary, it’s reasonable to assume the Tide could ring up as many points as the Ducks.
Florida doesn’t look nearly as threatening. Its passing game is a work in progress, and if running back Matt Jones isn’t fully healthy, the offense could struggle further.
Florida’s defense shouldn’t struggle at all, though, especially against a UT offense lacking in playmakers. And by the way, the game is in The Swamp, which is no place for an upset against a team that has beaten the Vols eight consecutive times.
That narrows the upset possibilities to South Carolina and Georgia, both of whom will come to Neyland Stadium.
The schedule will give UT an advantage against both. It has an open date before South Carolina and plays South Alabama the week before Georgia, which will play LSU before the Vols.
But even if Tennessee catches the Gamecocks on an off day, you would expect coach Steve Spurrier to find a way to win. You shouldn’t be so sure about the Bulldogs, whose performances have ranged from unimpressive to embarrassing on their last two visits to Neyland Stadium.
Two years ago, they won by eight points. And in 2009, they were routed 45-19.
You might not be able to comprehend quarterback Aaron Murray losing to the Vols. He already has beaten them three times and is on the verge of joining Florida’s Danny Wuerffel in going 4-0 as a starter against Tennessee.
But you probably couldn’t have imagined former Georgia quarterback David Greene losing to the Vols in 2004 after beating them in three previous starts. Nonetheless, the Vols knocked off Greene and the third-ranked Bulldogs in Athens 19-14.
That’s history worth considering if you’re looking for an upset.