Tough times at Tennessee

One year ago today the University of Tennessee appeared to be stronger in its three primary sports – football, men's basketball, women's basketball – than any school in America.

The football team was fresh from a 10-4 season that included an SEC East championship and an Outback Bowl victory.

The Basketball Vols were 24-2, ranked No. 2 nationally and one day away from upsetting top-ranked Memphis to take over the No. 1 spot for the first time in program history. They would go on to finish 31-5, shattering the old single-season record of 26 victories.

The Lady Vols, also 24-2, were ranked No. 3 nationally and two games into a 14-game winning streak that would carry them to a 36-2 record and the women's national championship.

In terms of The Big Three sports, the 2007-08 school year may have been the greatest in UT history.

It seems like a distant memory now, though, doesn't it? That's because the success of 2007-08 came at a cost ... a high cost:

The football team lost offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe, who parlayed his role in last year's success into a head coaching job at Duke. It also lost four-year starting quarterback Erik Ainge to graduation.

The Basketball Vols lost senior guards Chris Lofton, JaJuan Smith and Jordan Howell to graduation and lost key juniors Ramar Smith and Duke Crews to transfer.

The Lady Vols, meanwhile, lost four of their five starters to graduation and the fifth starter (NCAA Player of the Year Candace Parker) to the WNBA Draft.

Even with all of that talent missing, Big Orange fans expected big things from The Big Three in 2008-09. Obviously, those expectations have not been met.


- Dave Clawson, Cutcliffe's successor as offensive coordinator, and a trio of Ainge successors at quarterback never got the attack unit in gear. The result was a 5-7 football season that cost head coach Phillip Fulmer his job.

- The youthful replacements for Lofton, JaJuan Smith and Ramar Smith have not come close to achieving the same level of performance. As a result, Bruce Pearl's Basketball Vols are coming off an 0-2 week that saw their 2008-09 record plummet to 16-10 overall and 7-5 in SEC play.

- The youthful replacements for last year's Lady Vol starters have not come close to achieving the same level of performance, either. As a result, Pat Summitt's crew is coming off an 0-2 week that saw its 2008-09 record dip to 18-8 overall and 7-4 in league play. The Lady Vols' next conference loss will set a new single-season record.

Whereas the 2007-08 school year was one of the best ever for fans of UT's high-profile sports, the 2008-09 school year is on pace to be the worst since 1984. That year saw the football team go 7-4-1 (3-3 SEC), the men's basketball team go 22-15 (8-10 SEC) and the Lady Vols go 22-10 with a first-round loss in the NCAA Mideast Regional.

At times like these four words can prove very comforting:

"Wait till next year."

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