College football brings a lot of people joy. To some people, particularly around the ultra-competitive Southeastern Conference, college football is the epitome of their sheer existence, and watching their team on Saturdays is their lone true source of happiness. That happiness extends further into the offseason, when these fans follow as their school brings in one of the top recruiting classes in the country, filled with four- and five-star recruits. Between the season itself, recruiting, and monitoring offseason workouts, enjoying college football becomes a year-round job for many.
Unfortunately, the people who say they genuinely enjoy following college football throughout the year are not fans of the University of Tennessee.
To fans of Tennessee, the season brings anxiety and worry. To fans of Tennessee, the offseason brings even more of the same. Remember, there’s a reason it’s called the Fulmer Cup, despite what Georgia’s recent off-the-field antics have shown. From the in-season heartbreaks, to finishing runner-up to every decent recruit in the country, to the build-up that comes with offseason workouts, the life of a Tennessee fan is a constant rise of optimism, only to be disappointed at every point along the way.
Here is a month-by-month breakdown of the life of a Tennessee fan, along with how we see our team faring the following season.
The season just wrapped up, whether a day or a month ago, and people begin to look forward to next season. Though reality set in and the team finished at a disappointing 5-7, there were a few bright spots toward the end of the season that will only get better with our strength coach’s off-season regime. After yet another strength and conditioning coaching change, we’ve finally settled on one, and this one is much better than the one we had last season.
January marks a crucial point in recruiting for college football fans. For most SEC schools, January recruiting means star-gazing and wondering which five-star is going to start immediately. In recent years for Tennessee fans, recruiting in January means getting our hopes up. The Carl Lawsons of the world will rave about their weekends in Knoxville, random Volquest posters will come out of the woodworks creating rumors, and we will begin to project our #3 overall class.
Some early-enrollees will begin to “turn heads,” and the team appears more dedicated than ever in the weight room.
Overall, however, the hangover from the previous season still lingers in January.
February is the beginning of all blind optimism building in Knoxville. For those who are unaware, the first Wednesday of February is National Signing Day, and regardless of how highly rated the players are that we may have lost, all Tennessee fans are under the impression that this class is the class that is going to turn around the program. The class is usually filled with “sleepers” (see: lowly rated guys with few offers) who, with a redshirt under their belt, will become All-SEC type players, and some who may even be able to contribute immediately. Because the month of February revolves around the future and not the present, it allows fans to tell themselves that Tennessee is going to be back, even if it’s in the distance.
Like January, part of March revolves around the off-season strength and conditioning program. Also like January, we don’t hear a single bad word said about anyone on the team. Instead, we continue to have our hopes and dreams built by the dedication these players have had in their workouts. Chemistry, a word you’ll hear again in the coming months, is beginning to form and the team is ready to prove themselves in spring practice, which leads me to the second portion of March.
Spring practice continues to build optimism amongst the Tennessee faithful, because we hear about one player dominating and working toward a breakout season. Most of the time, we allow our eternal hope to block out the fact that this player is normally only dominating equally bad players. Regardless, we forget this fact and continue to get excited about our current team, and optimism continues to build as March 31st approaches.
Part of the reason April is fun is because we can pretend that we have real football around the corner, when in reality it’s merely the Orange and White game. Regardless of the seriousness or intensity of the game, people still hype it up, and get more excited than a reasonable person should. Along with this hype comes the inevitable belief that we’re going to learn something about the team through this game.
The best part about the spring game is that people assume the best from the team regardless of the outcome. If a player looks really good, it’s because everything we’ve been reading has been true. If a player looks bad, who cares? It’s just the spring game, so he obviously wasn’t trying. It’s the perfect opportunity to continue to build optimism for the coming season.
Prediction: 7-5, but closing in on 8-4
May is potentially the most interesting month of the entire year, and that solely revolves around the fact that, as counterintuitive as it may be, there is no football. It is in this idle month that a Tennessee fan allows his or her optimism to rise toward stupidly high levels. Although a minimum of one player is going to get in trouble, we will soon convince ourselves that we “are better off without him,” and that he was “a cancer in the locker room.” Alas, his replacement is ultimately a better player than he is, and our team is at this point going to the Peach Bowl.
June is when things really start to become fun. While the team is showing more chemistry than ever and beginning to really buy into what the new S&C coach is doing, it’s the influx of freshman that begins to put everyone over the top. Oh we need a corner back? It just so happens that guy who chose us over UCF is a stud. Oh our starting tight end’s head fell off? The guy with “non-committable” offers to Georgia, Georgia Tech, Georgia Southern, Georgia St, and Georgia Conservatory of Music is putting up unbelievable numbers in the weight room and will contribute immediately.
It’s a tale as old as time, really: all these guys who we need to be good just so happen to live up to the billing. Leadership begins to pop up out of nowhere as our starting holder really looks like the vocal leader of the team. Our quarterbacks still need to improve their vocal leadership, but they’re leading by example, which, per the beat writers, is all we need right now.
Above all else, football season becomes tangible in June, and so does everyone’s rising expectations.
Prediction: 8-4, but beginning to creep into 9-3 territory
July is very similar to June in the sense that most of the month is simply build-up to the season. Though no one puts on pads, this season coaches were allowed to meet with the players, which only furthered message boards blowing up. That cornerback mentioned in June is officially a freshman all-American candidate, and the one guy who we weren’t sure if the Clearinghouse would clear enrolled for the second session of summer school and is a dark-horse Heisman candidate.
Reports of players getting stronger or simply being overlooked begin to seep out of every crevasse, and, perhaps most importantly, people start to “do it.” Without fail, the end of July is when people fully commit to being in contention for the SEC East, and a certain former radio host will notoriously warn himself, “don’t you dare do it, (insert said host’s internet username),” which he always does anyway. By the time July 31st rolls around, he and hundreds of others have in fact done it. Expectations begin to rise at an unreasonable rate at this time of the year.
Prediction: 9-3, with 10-2 closing in at the speed of light
With August comes football, and with football comes Tennessee fans continuing to be unreasonable. It’s in this month where “doing it,” officially becomes the cool thing to do, and people are going all in on this year’s underachieving edition of the Tennessee Volunteers.
The pads go on, and what we’ve heard all summer is confirmed. That corner is living up to the hype, the tight-end will contribute, and the late addition was a saving grace because he’ll be one of the leading tacklers on the team. Other players who contributed in seasons past have added weight, gained experience, and now know the system inside and out. The guys who we needed to break out have begun to show their potential, and the stars appear to be aligning on the gridiron itself. People will also pore over videos from sites like Rivals or 247 trying to scout the team themselves and confirm just how good our new skill players are looking. It’s important to mention here that, like in April, everyone looks good going against someone who is bad.
Off of the field, Volquest continues to talk about the chemistry of this team, and with post-practice interviews with the players, we learn about the barbecues, bowling nights, and video game tournaments they hosted all summer in an effort to further bond the team. Not only is this team stronger, tougher, and more intelligent, their appreciation for one another as teammates is at an all-time high. Nothing is going to stop this team going into that first game.
Perhaps the worst part of August is that first game, where we always find ourselves playing a cupcake of a team. The offense looks amazing and the defense looks more than serviceable in a game that makes the infamous Georgia Tech-Cumberland game look close. The season is off to a great start, and so far it looks like very little can be done to stop this year’s team.
Prediction: 10-2, SEC East champs
September is usually the tale of two teams. We find ourselves usually playing a middle of the pack team in the second or third week that looks like a solid win after some experts put us on upset alert. This continues to build optimism, as people still see this team finding its way into the SEC Championship Game, with a 10-win season, plus a potential bowl win.
Then one of two things happens, and reality sets in. These next two games happen to be against two very good teams, with one being a conference opponent and one a non-conference. In both games, we lose by double digits, either by getting blown out of the gates or slowly collapsing. Regardless, the entire fanbase goes to sleep those nights in mid-September feeling a little worse about the situation in Knoxville. Regardless of the coach, some bad words begin to be said about him, and the fanbase is sharply divided in two halves: those who are still on the bandwagon, and those who have jumped early in an effort to say “I told you so,” in a few months. In reality, the jury is most likely still out on the team, but don’t tell a fan that, because everyone is vehemently on one side or the other. There is no middle ground, even this early in the season.
Prediction(s): First half of the month: 10-2
Glass-half-full people second half: 9-3, slipping to 8-4
Glass-half-empty people second half: 5-7, bowl season already out of reach
It’s in October when the wheels essentially fall off the bandwagon entirely. While many fanbases would be more forgiving to a team who consistently sees top 10 teams every Saturday of the month, as Tennessee fans we’re too proud to do that. Instead, more and more fans find themselves jumping off the bandwagon with each passing week. The losses begin to compile and the odds of making a bowl start to dwindle, but there are always a few who hope for and expect to see the team playing in December.
Recruiting also begins to take a turn for the worse around this time. While it wasn’t the norm in the fall of 2013, October is usually when we begin to hear rumors about our top commits beginning to take official visits to other schools. Slowly, our 4* safe takes get replaced by 3* reaches, as not only the thought of the current season’s success, but future season’s success slowly fade as Halloween approaches. A huge November is a must to salvage the season.
Prediction: 6-6, with many beginning to see 5-7
By the time November comes around, things usually aren’t looking great for the Volunteers. After a rough October, the Big Orange usually has a 2-6 record, with wins needed in all four games in November. On the surface, this isn’t too daunting of a task. November usually consists of a low-level non-conference game, Missouri, Vanderbilt, and Kentucky. Seems like an easy way to get to a bowl, right? Well it all depends on who you ask.
Similar to September, there’s usually a very distinct divide in the fanbase between those who are convinced we’re going to win all four and backdoor our way into the Music City Bowl, or those who know that we will lay an egg versus one of those teams, and find ourselves without fifteen extra practices and what essentially is a glorified scrimmage.
At this point, it’s impossible to have a projection for the record, because this is the do-or-die month for the team. Usually the non-conference game is an easy win so the optimistic half of the fanbase remains optimistic, while the pessimistic half berates the other half for being shortsighted and failing to acknowledge how bad our opponent was.
The fact that the season hinges in the balance makes this perhaps the most frustrating month of them all. All four games are winnable, but somehow we always find a way to trip up in one of them. For most of us, this night is arguably the worst night of our year as fans, aside from maybe the night following the embarrassment against Alabama. After investing so much time an effort, our team comes up short, once again.
Instead of pandemonium, disappointment reigns as November comes to a close
Final Record: 5-7
The first few weeks of December are usually more of a period of mourning rather than beginning to look forward to what next season may hold in store. There are countless threads across message boards asking who is to blame, who should have played more or less, and, as is the case for recent history, who should be at the top of our coaching hot board. A lot of times, this can mark a period of excitement, as we find ourselves latching onto any sliver of a Grumor imaginable.
Overall, however, December is when we hear about recruits looking elsewhere, visiting elsewhere, and, ultimately, committing elsewhere. While the current staff has changed much of the outlook on this month, the feeling of finishing as runner-up to many recruits is still a familiar feeling to many of us, so it’s impossible to shake the feeling as Christmas rolls around.
We bitterly watch while other teams play in bowls and get recruits, while for us, those feelings are, once again, nearly a year away.
Prediction: Who fucking cares?
Don’t be fooled because I’ve managed to take a step back for a few thousand words and write an honest view of the University of Tennessee, because I’m maybe the worst offender of all.
Now excuse me while I get back to Volquest, because we’ve got a division to win.