A preseason magazine has offered hope to the rest of college football by projecting scenarios that could end Alabama’s dynasty, now comprised of three national championships in four seasons.
Athlon’s “7 Threats To Saban’s Dynasty” left me wondering about the other end of the standings, specifically what it would take for Tennessee to rise to the top in the SEC East after three consecutive seven-loss seasons.
In exploring the possibilities, let’s start close to home. Obviously, new coach Butch Jones has to do a better job than the three coaches before him — Derek Dooley, Lane Kiffin and the new-millennium version of Phillip Fulmer.
You probably have already noticed that fans and recruits have an affinity for the personable Jones, who is off to a flying start toward his 2014 signing class. But you don’t know what he can do in the heat of an SEC battle.
For the purpose of this column, let’s assume he can hold his own against the best and brightest of SEC coaches or at least consistently limit his on-the-field personnel to 11 players. Then, we can widen our focus to include outside factors that could assist Tennessee’s ascent within the SEC East during the next five years.
Saban Retires: Never mind if Alabama is in the SEC West. The Vols still have to play the Tide every season.
And that’s as close to a certain defeat as a game of chance can provide.
But as good as Alabama has been under Nick Saban, as good as it was in the 1960s and 70s under Bear Bryant, there was sporadic success but no dynasties in between. When the 62-year-old Saban retires, who’s to say the Tide won’t hire some guy named “Mike?”
Spurrier Retires: There’s a Grand Canyon-size gap between South Carolina football with and without Steve Spurrier.
Without him, South Carolina is clearly a program Tennessee could overtake.
At 68, Spurrier looks as though he could coach another 10 years. It’s in UT’s best interests if he doesn’t.
Dawgs’ Recruiting Suffers: The Vols know how much Rodney Garner’s recruiting can do for a program. In his brief stint as an assistant on Fulmer’s staff, he recruited three future All-SEC players from the state of Georgia.
In Garner’s 15 years as Georgia’s recruiting coordinator, they won 139 games. After he left to join Gus Malzahn’s new staff at Auburn this year, you had to question how well the Bulldogs will recruit without him.
Will Muschamp Bombs: Following a disappointing 7-6 season in 2011, Florida bounced back to win 11 games in Muschamp’s second year as coach.
But there’s not enough of a track record with this first-time head coach to predict whether the Gators will have long-term success on his watch. The worse he does, the better for the Vols.
James Franklin Leaves: Just a few years ago, no one would have suggested Vanderbilt would have a bearing on UT football.
However, James Franklin has had unparalleled success at Vanderbilt, winning six games in his first season and nine in his second. Since when has a Commodores coach posed a greater threat to the Vols on the field and in recruiting?
Tennessee would be better off if Franklin capitalizes on his success by taking another job.