This is not a parable, a fable or an allegory. Maybe it’s not even an omen. But this story out of Knoxville, Tennessee, is also not fiction.
Jeff Roth, a Tennessee Vols fan, was excited to be part of the Vol Navy tradition of taking his boat up the Tennessee River to see the Vols play Saturday. It would have been the first time he had been part of the parade on his boat named Chances R. Instead, the 42-foot boat caught fire Saturday morning and sunk to the bottom of the river even before the unique tailgate experience started.
The four people on board were rescued without anyone being physically harmed, but that doesn’t mean the whole experience wasn’t painful and just a bit embarrassing.
That description also fits Tennessee football these days.
Just like Roth’s boat, there appears to be no hope for salvaging the once-proud program.
The Vols lost 38-30 Saturday to Georgia State. The score was that close only because Tennessee scored with two seconds remaining. That makes Tennessee easily the most disappointing team in college football one week into the season.
To put this loss in perspective, this wasn’t a great lower division team like Appalachian State upsetting Michigan. This is a Georgia State team that went 2-10 last season while playing in the Sun Belt Conference. When they stepped up to play an FBS team last year the Panthers were beaten 41-7 by North Carolina State. In the preseason Sun Belt Conference poll, the Panthers were picked dead last. They were well behind Georgia Southern, which lost 55-3 Saturday to LSU. And nobody who follows Sun Belt Conference football now believes Georgia Southern is a serious contender for the conference championships.
The Panthers are just a regular Sun Belt team that happened to be more physical, more prepared and more motivated than the Volunteers on opening day.
In the jubilant postgame locker room, Georgia State coach Shawn Elliott made fun of the “It Just Means More” slogan that is splashed around every SEC stadium. Elliott told his team: “Today, it just meant more to the people in this room.”
He was right. But his team wasn’t the only one to humble an SEC team on opening weekend. In fact, it’s hard to find a fanbase from the SEC East that is happy with how the season has begun.
Missouri lost at Wyoming, which is not a good team but is at least an actual state.
South Carolina blew a big lead to fall to North Carolina. If Will Muschamp and the Gamecocks can’t beat the Tar Heels and their true freshman quarterback, then how can they expect to be competitive with Alabama, Georgia and Clemson? They can’t. So, even if everything goes perfectly from here on out, which it won’t, then 8-4 is the best possible record. It’s time to start wondering who the Gamecocks’ next coach will be.
Kentucky struggled before beating Toledo.
Vanderbilt predictably lost to Georgia, which was at least workmanlike in beating the Commodores.
Florida took the week off after a mistake-riddled win over Miami to open the season.
In the SEC West, Ole Miss lost to Memphis, while Auburn won a thriller over Oregon in the only matchup of ranked teams all weekend.
Alabama, LSU, Texas A&M, Mississippi State and Arkansas all won as convincingly as expected. In the case of Arkansas, that meant winning at all against Portland State.
That means the SEC has a combined record of 9-5 this season. That may not seem terrible until you consider that only Ole Miss was an underdog. So, the 13 favorites posted a 9-4 record, which is not stellar.
On the positive side, Auburn had the most significant win of the weekend. Quarterback Bo Nix made some freshman mistakes, but winners are going to make winning plays. Nix is a winner, even if his skillset doesn’t yet match up perfectly with the offensive game plan Gus Malzahn is employing.
If Malzahn adjusts to what Nix can do as opposed to trying to mold him into a prototypical Malzahn quarterback, then many more big wins are ahead.
I watched Clemson play in person last Thursday against Georgia Tech, and I saw Texas A&M win against Texas State. Clemson has a great football atmosphere that is comparable to any in the SEC. But this team is vulnerable.
The Aggies have an experienced quarterback and a talented roster that is accustomed to playing in hostile environments. This could be a perfect opportunity for an upset of the national champions and top-ranked Tigers.
After such a tough opening weekend, the SEC could use such a win. “It Just Means More” is an appropriate moniker for the SEC. That’s why it would mean more for the league to get the kind of win that would offset what was a disappointing opening weekend for the SEC.
Randy Kennedy has been a leading voice on the Gulf Coast sports scene for 17 years. Follow him on Twitter at @kennedy_randy.
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