Best-case scenario

A lot of people are projecting a 6-6 season for the 2010 Tennessee football team. Since the Vols are operating with their third coaching staff in three years and with less talent than usual, that's probably a safe pick.

That may not be the right pick, however. Tennessee conceivably could do better this fall if a few things fall into place. Here are four reasons why 2010 could be an 8-4 season:

1. Tennessee should sweep UT-Martin, UAB, Memphis, Vanderbilt and Kentucky. Martin is a Football Championship Subdivision team. UAB was a one-man team last fall, and that one man (quarterback Joe Webb) is gone. Memphis has beaten Tennessee once in series history, Vanderbilt once in the past 27 meetings and Kentucky once in the past 28 years. That would be five wins right there.

2. The Vols have a legitimate chance to upset Oregon at Neyland Stadium in Game 2. For one thing, teams typically fall flat after crossing three time zones. Secondly, Vol defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox limited the Ducks to 152 total yards, six first downs and eight points as the coordinator at Boise State last fall. Third, Knoxville's heat and humidity may adversely affect Oregon, even with a 7 p.m. kickoff. That could be win No. 6.

3. Derek Dooley very nearly beat LSU in Baton Rouge with Louisiana Tech's players last fall. His Bulldogs ran 84 plays to the Tigers' 52, held the ball 36:22 to LSU's 23:38, outgained the hosts 322-246 in total yards and led 13-10 at halftime before wilting in a 24-16 loss. Dooley will have better players, better assistants and better depth at his disposal when he travels to Baton Rouge this time. That would be seven wins.

4. Tennessee has a shot against Ole Miss, which lost the guts of last year's team. Gone are eight offensive and five defensive starters from 2009, including Dexter McCluster (who burned UT for 282 rushing yards last fall), 1,000-yard receiver Shay Hodge, star quarterback Jevan Snead and offensive tackle John Jerry, a third-round pick in the NFL Draft. With this year's game scheduled for Knoxville, that could be win No. 8.

Will Tennessee win eight games this fall? It's not likely but it's not inconceivable. Here's a brief recap of how it could happen:

Game 1: The Vols beat a UT-Martin team that lost 41-14 last fall to a Memphis squad that Tennessee beat 56-28.

Game 2: The Vols beat an Oregon team that is weary after traveling from one end of the U.S. to the other.

Game 4: The Vols beat a UAB team that is struggling to replace a superstar quarterback.

Game 5: The Vols beat an LSU team that was dead last among the 12 SEC programs in total offense last fall.

Game 9: The Vols beat a Memphis team that is 1-21 in the all-time series.

Game 10: The Vols beat an Ole Miss team that lost eight of 11 offensive starters from 2009, including the irreplaceable Dexter McCluster.

Game 11: The Vols beat a Vanderbilt team whose head coach (Bobby Johnson) quit just seven weeks before the season began, leaving Robbie Caldwell in charge.

Game 12: The Vols beat a Kentucky program that has lost to UT 25 times in a row already.


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