Some Stats Don't Lie

If you want to know the future of the financial world you look at the leading economic indicators, but what are the signs of probable outcome for Tennessee football?

The most logical would seem to be points scored verses points allowed, however, in 1993, which was Phillip Fulmer's first full season at Tennessee, the Vols outscored opponents by a modern day school record of 309 points, or an average of just under 26 points per game. Despite this domination, the Vols finished 9-2-1 that season and did not even win their division in the SEC.

Headed by a backfield that featured Heath Shuler, James Stewart, Aaron Hayden and Charlie Garner, the 1993 team scored an average of 40 points per game and had outings in which it scored 50, 52, 55, 45, 48 and 62 points. Still it was thoroughly outplayed by Florida and Penn State, and collapsed late against Alabama to finish in a 17-17 deadlock.

Conversely, the 1989 Tennessee team only outscored opponents by 129 total points, an average of under 13 points per contest. That's 180 fewer points than the 1993 team outscored opponents, but the 1989 UT team went 11-1 and tied for the SEC championship.

Another case in point came in the 1980 and 1981 seasons. In 1980 Tennessee outscored opponents by 67 total points and finished 5-6. The next year UT was outscored by 21 points and finished 8-4.

Similarly, in 1960, the Vols allowed only 79 points or an average of only 7.9 points per game and finished with only six wins. The next season Tennessee's defense allowed 149 points and finished with the same number of victories.

Obviously, points scored vs. points allowed is not a reliable gauge of success. Neither are yardage totals allowed vs. yardage totals gained. Turnover ratio is an excellent indicator, but even this category can be flawed if taken alone.

However, combine the turnover ratio with the average yards gained per rushing attempt vs. yards allowed per carry and you gain true insight and perhaps foresight.

Generally speaking, it can be fairly stated that the greater the difference in these two vital areas the greater success UT has had. Let's underscore the accuracy of this formula based on results over the last 10 years at Tennessee.

In 2002, the Vols averaged 3.8 yards per carry and allowed 3.4, and finished with a turnover ratio of plus-2. That's the worst combined index during Fulmer's 13-year tenure as head coach, it is also his worst season, as the Vols went 8-5 with its worst bowl loss in school history.

The next season Tennessee gained 3.9 yards per carry while allowing 3.7, and finished with a turnover ratio of only plus 3. That team was overwhelmed by Auburn and Georgia and again dominated in the Peach Bowl by an ACC squad. If not for overtime wins over South Carolina and Alabama, it would have finished with five defeats again.

In 1997, Tennessee won the SEC title with a one-point victory over Auburn and finished 11-2. That team averaged 4.6 yards per carry and allowed 3.4 yards. However, it struggled with consistency and was beaten badly by Florida in Gainesville. The reason: it finished minus-eight in turnovers and needed the most prolific passing season in SEC history to offset that deficiency. When the Vols played Nebraska in the Orange Bowl with an injured Peyton Manning at the controls and limited to a control passing attack the Cornhuskers posted a 42-17 pasting.

In 1996, the Vols went 10-2 and beat Northwestern soundly in the Citrus Bowl. It had an edge of 3.5 yards per carry to 2.7. The 3.5 yard average is the lowest in Fulmer's era as head coach, but UT had a turnover ratio of plus-nine that year. The only games in which it didn't enjoy a turnover advantage were losses to Florida and Memphis.

Okay, so which were the best seasons in terms of our formula in the last 10 years? They're not hard to guess. In 1995, the Vols out gained opponents 4.5 yards per carry to 3.1 and had a turnover ratio of plus-14. They went 11-1 and finished No. 2 in the nation.

In 1998, the Vols averaged 4.7 yards per carry vs. 2.7 yards for opponents. That's the greatest advantage a UT team has had under Fulmer. It also had an amazing plus-16 turnover ratio which led the nation.

You don't have to be told how that team finished, or how important these categories will be to UT's success in 2005.


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