Devil's Advocate

Tennessee football fans were expecting a 10-1 season and a BCS bowl bid this fall. So, an impotent offense and a 4-5 record has some of them so mad they're insulting the Vols by picking Vanderbilt to beat them Saturday in Knoxville.

Now THAT'S mad - mad, as in crazy. Where have they been the past 22 years? Tennessee has beaten the Commodores 22 times in a row during that span, usually by lopsided margins.

Here's a recap of the last seven meetings:

1998: Tennessee 41, Vandy 0

1999: Tennessee 38, Vandy 10

2000: Tennessee 28, Vandy 26

2001: Tennessee 38, Vandy 0

2002: Tennessee 24, Vandy 0

2003: Tennessee 48, Vandy 0

2004: Tennessee 38, Vandy 33

For those keeping score at home, that's an average score of 36-10. If you count only the games played in Knoxville (1999, 2001, 2003) the average score was 41-3. Sure, Tennessee has fallen on hard times, but not THAT hard.

It's absolutely true that Vanderbilt gave Tennessee fits last year. But the Commodores had a running attack back then, and the Vols had a young and inconsistent defense. This year, neither has either.

Vanderbilt's best running back, Kwane Doster, was tragically gunned down during the off-season. Jeff Jennings is out with a season-ending knee injury and Steven Bright is questionable due to a shoulder injury.

Given the situation at tailback, Vandy coach Bobby Johnson wasn't kidding when he noted: "Probably those fullbacks are going to have to play a bunch."

I'll readily concede that Jay Cutler is the SEC's best quarterback. But, with no ground support, he'll be a sitting duck for Tennessee's all-out pass rush.

As Johnson put it: "When we've run the ball fairly well and made people respect the run a little bit, that has opened up the pass a little bit."

The Vols won't respect the run. Instead, they'll pin their ears back and tee off on Cutler the way Tiger Woods tees off on a long par-5.

Sure, Cutler will make a few plays, but that won't be enough. Vanderbilt scored 85 points against Florida and Kentucky the past two weekends, and lost each time.

The 2005 Vols are a disappointment, so go ahead and be mad. But be angry mad, not crazy mad. Even at their worst, they're still better than the Commodores.

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