At this point, who cares?
Tennessee has a game against Missouri today.
Did you need reminding of that? Most Vol fans probably do.
And therein lies the problem. A big problem.
Few situations in college football are worse than the fan base losing interest in the product on the field.
No, this isn’t another ‘empty seats’ column. This is more of a ‘who cares’ column. Because at this point, Tennessee fans, at least for the most part, don’t.
Looking at the schedule in August, SEC rookie Mizzou making its maiden voyage to Knoxville on the second Saturday in November seemed at the very least very intriguing. A meaningful SEC game in the final month of the season between two teams that should still be in the hunt for New Year’s Day bowl games. It’s been a while since Tennessee had either of those.
And now it will at least be another year before the Vols have a shot at either.
Instead of intrigue, it’s a noon kickoff — well, it’s a 12:21 kickoff. (In other words, the old Jefferson Pilot Sports broadcast time slot. And we all remember those bottom-of-the-barrel JP games.)
Instead of big-time bowl games on the line, it’s which way-below-average unit — Missouri’s offense or Tennessee’s defense — can be less bad than the other for 60 minutes at Neyland Stadium and help keep hope alive for six or seven wins and a lower tier bowl.
And most importantly, and most problematic for Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart, there’s very little interest in what the actual outcome will be.
Instead, it’s when, if, where and how Derek Dooley will be fired. And which big name coaching candidate is waiting in the wings when that happens.
The 55-48 win over Troy was a moral victory for Troy. It was a moral loss for the Vols.
It may have been the first time in Tennessee football history that fans left Neyland after a win feeling worse about their team — and their coach — than when the day began.
But it’s impossible to ignore that fact after last week. And it will impossible to ignore the discussions moving forward. There will be plenty more empty seats today. And there will be plenty more discussion in the stands about the immediate future of the program.
Don’t make that change this season, and that discussion only heats up over the summer.
If allowed, it will continue to build next season with a poor home schedule and a somehow tougher strength of schedule.
Austin Peay, Western Kentucky, South Alabama and Vanderbilt won’t draw big numbers in Knoxville. Early trips to Oregon and Florida, and a later trip to Alabama, would have Vol fans right back to square one in the new coach discussions.
Those schools and dates are way down the road, though. Missouri today, Vanderbilt next week and Kentucky two weeks later are here now.
But Tennessee fans aren’t concerned with what’s left on the schedule or what’s happening on the field.
Instead, they’re only concerned about what’s left for the coach.
Grant Ramey is a sports writer at The Daily Times. He can be reached at 865-981-1145 or grantr@thedailytimes.