Righting the ship

A quick fix. That's what Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer is seeking. That's why he's aggressively pursuing David Cutcliffe as offensive coordinator/assistant head coach.

But can the Tennessee football program be turned around in one season?

Can it go from a non-bowl team to eight or nine wins? Can the quarterback situation be resolved? Can discipline be restored? Can the offense evolve from totally inept to effective? Can a defense that loses six quality starters rank among the nation's top 20?

Fulmer hopes so. Cutcliffe has to wonder so. Surely, Cutcliffe has seen the decline in the UT program since he left following the 1998 season. He has seen poor quarterback play, wide receivers who can't catch, lack of execution and lack of focus.

Can Tennessee go from 4-7 to conference champions in one season like Penn State? Or is this a two- or three-year rebuilding project?

If not for end-zone fumbles against Alabama and South Carolina, an overturned catch at the 1-yard line against Florida, and one more first down against Vanderbilt, the Vols could have eight wins.

If not for a tipped pass at the goal line against Alabama-Birmingham, Rick Clausen heroics in Baton Rouge and DeAngelo Williams not playing for Memphis, the Vols could have one win.

The Vols have been good enough to play toe-to-toe with three top 20 teams. They've been bad enough to lose to two mediocre teams and almost lose to two others.

Recent history suggests it's hard for a top-notch program to dig its way out of a hole in just one season. Let's take a look at seven other big-time college programs that fell on hard times and stayed on the deck - some for longer than eight years.

Alabama: During an eight-year period (1997-2004), the Crimson Tide had four non-winning seasons, had six five-loss seasons, had six seasons of seven or fewer wins, went to just four bowls and recorded two 10-win seasons. The Tide also went through four coaches. Overall record during the decline: 51-46.

LSU: During an 11-year period (1989-99), the Tigers had six straight losing seasons and eight below .500 seasons. They had eight years with six losses, five teams with four or fewer wins, one 10-win season and three bowls. They hired four coaches before fixing the problem. Overall record during the decline: 58-65-1

Nebraska: After winning three national championships in four years, the Cornhuskers have had a difficult four-year stretch, starting in 2002. They have had three four-loss seasons (it could be four depending on this week's game at Colorado) and had the nation's longest bowl streak snapped last season. Overall record during the decline: 28-23

Oklahoma: During an eight-year period (1992-99), the Sooners had six five-loss seasons, five non-winning seasons and no 10-win seasons. In consecutive years, they went 5-5-1, 3-8, 4-8 and 5-6. Overall record during the decline: 44-42-3.

Penn State: During a five-year period (2000-04), the Nittany Lions had four losing seasons. They had five straight years with at least four defeats, twice losing seven. Overall record during the decline: 28-30.

Texas: During a nine-year period (1991-99), the Longhorns had six seasons with five or more defeats, two losing seasons and one 10-win season. They won just 16 games in a three-year stint. Overall record during the decline: 73-42-2.

USC: During an 11-year period (1991-2001), the Trojans had nine seasons with five or more losses, had five non-winning seasons, won six or fewer games seven times, recorded two losing seasons and had no 10-win seasons. USC had 17 wins before Pete Carroll guided the Trojans to 46 wins-and-counting in four seasons. Overall record during the decline: 71-58-3.


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