Rocky Times on Rocky Top

To say that times are tough in Knoxville, Tennessee is an understatement. The Tennessee Volunteers wrapped up the 2011-12 season with a 10-7 loss to the Kentucky Wildcats to fall to 5-7. A program the Volunteers had not lost to since 1984. This once-proud program has suffered its fourth losing season since 2005. To make matters worse, the Volunteers will not be bowling for the third time in seven years.

The Volunteers needed a win over Kentucky to get to 6-6 and become bowl eligible. While the Vols would only have been invited to a lower tier bowl game, it would have meant an extra month of practice for a young team. Last season, the Vols won its remaining four games to attain a record of 6-6 and a berth in the Music City Bowl. The extra month of practice last season did not translate into more wins this season.

Expectations on Rocky Top have lowered the past decade, but not to a point where a losing season is acceptable. In an era of college football dominated by the Southeastern Conference, no SEC team has fallen behind more than the Tennessee Volunteers.

While head coach Derek Dooley only finished his second season, he will be facing more pressure to win next fall. Heading into the 2011-12 season, many believed the Vols were only one year away from competing for a spot in the SEC Championship Game. The Volunteers never gave viewers any reason to believe they are ready to compete in the SEC, let alone a depleted SEC East.

Dooley has compiled a record of 11-14 in his two seasons at Tennessee. He has only won four games against SEC opponents, none of which had winning records in conference. If Tennessee suffers losses to Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina for the third straight season next fall, then Dooley’s job security will become questionable.

Dissatisfaction with the program reached new heights this season, as the Volunteers only sold out one home game all season. Neyland Stadium is not the same intimidating venue it once used to be.

Dooley has his work cut out for him during the offseason. Offensive production must be a top priority for a team that only averaged 11.5 per games in conference play. Building a tough defense that can play for four quarters must also be on the top of his agenda. Tennessee’s biggest obstacle in SEC play this season was being able to compete for four quarters.

The 2011-12 season might go down as one of the most disappointing seasons in recent memory for Tennessee fans. But all of the disappointment can be put to rest by defeating hated rival Florida next September. A win over the hated Gators would go a long way in restoring faith in Knoxville.

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