Polling Fulmer

Based on a comparison of preseason polls and final AP rankings, a Tennessee fan is concerned that coach Phillip Fulmer isn't meeting expectations.

He noted that Fulmer has exceeded expectations – finishing higher than projected -- only three times in 12 seasons. And that since Fulmer took over in 1993, the Vols are a minus-47 when it comes to final rankings v. preseason rankings.

What does that mean?

It means if you're an elite program, it's difficult to live up to expectations. It might also mean that preseason polls are, well, meaningless – which they are.

Preseason polls are fodder for conversation. They are an educated guess. They're no more accurate than folks picking against the weekly point spread.

To chastise Fulmer for not meeting expectations based on preseason polls has no merit, once you dig deeper. For example, people in the know knew the Vols wouldn't be very good in 2000. Yet, Tennessee was ranked 12th in the preseason and finished unranked by AP balloters. In 2002, the Vols were preseason No. 4 and finished unranked.

If you go that route, you've got to criticize a lot of coaches.

In Steve Spurrier's last 11 years at Florida, he exceeded expectations three times. Yet, he won six SEC titles and a national championship. You want meeting poll expectations or results?

Since 1989, the overwhelming majority of elite programs have underachieved. Southern Cal is minus-57, followed by Texas (-54), Nebraska (-50), Miami (-33), LSU (-33), Florida (-32) and Oklahoma (-31).

The problem is, if you're picked No. 1 in the preseason and you win the national title, you get a big fat zero for exceeding expectations. And if you're unranked preseason and postseason, you get the same score -- zero. The programs that will do well under this format are Boise State and Louisville and Utah and Iowa – teams usually not ranked high in preseason polls.

While the numbers show Fulmer at minus-47, had he coached the entire 1992 season, his line would look better. In '92, Fulmer coached UT to four wins, including upsets over Florida and Georgia. UT had a plus-14 in 1992, thanks to Fulmer's handy work when Johnny Majors was sidelined.

If you give Fulmer credit for 1992, he would be minus-33. Had Fulmer coached the entire '92 season, the Vols would have had a better record and been ranked higher, thus improving Fulmer's expectation quota.

Interestingly, since 1989, UT is just minus-12 on the expectation bar, piling up points for the 1989 (21) and 1992 (14) seasons. Fulmer's worst marks were in 2000 and 2002. His best were in 1998 (nine) and 1995 (six).

* Texas A&M defensive coordinator Carl Torbush had a first-hand look at Tennessee's Gerald Riggs and Rick Clausen in the Cotton Bowl and he came away impressed.

``I'd compare Riggs more to (former Texas running back) Cedric Benson than (Oklahoma's) Adrian Peterson,'' said Torbush, a Knoxville East high school product who was a two-sport star at Carson-Newman College. ``That's a compliment.

``Riggs is a very powerful guy who does have excellent speed. He's a strong inside runner as well as outside. If he stays healthy, I think he'll be as good as anybody in America this year.''

Torbush liked Clausen's efficiency.

``He doesn't make many mistakes,'' Torbush said. ``He puts the ball where it needs to be, doesn't throw it in a crowd. He gets the ball to the receivers and running backs and I think their offensive line is as good as there is in the country – and that's been over the last 20 years.''

Torbush said he was surprised by some of the throws made by Clausen.

``We were in a perfect coverage, zone blitz, and he throw it right between two defenders, right on the money,'' Torbush said. ``We were in about as perfect a coverage as we could be and he still got it in there. He threw it well and played with a lot of confidence.''

Torbush said it was ``amazing'' to see Tennessee have the rash of injuries it did last year and still win 10 games.

``They've got a great coaching staff,'' Torbush said. ``Phillip has done a phenomenal job with that program. He's given them a chance to win the SEC and compete for a national championship almost each and every year.''

The Aggies lost 41-21 in the 2004 season opener to a Utah team coached by Urban Meyer, now at Florida.

Torbush thinks the SEC better be ready.

``The SEC will see what I'm talking about,'' Torbush said. ``Their offense is different. They do a lot of different things and go in a lot of different directions. They've got some wishbone principles and some single-wing principles and they throw the ball down field.''

By the way, Torbush said he favors a college football playoff instead of adding a 12th game to the regular schedule.


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