We asked. They answered. Here's some talk about the Vols as the Gamecocks get set to spoil the hopes of another SEC team this weekend. Hopefully.
1. Given the hype surrounding the Vols coming into this season, is a 4-4 record a let down 8 games into the season? Or was it unrealistic to expect a December trip to Atlanta out of such a young team?
Even though I picked the Vols to make a trip to Atlanta at the end of the year as the SEC East champs, I do think it was a bit premature of us in the media to heap those expectations on the team. Although such close losses to Oklahoma, Florida, and Alabama may actually prove that those expectations weren't too far off. But this team, as you said, is young, and the depth has been severely hurt by the number of injuries the Vols have suffered this season. Is that an excuse? Absolutely not. But it certainly adds to the odds the team had to overcome. Regardless, the East crown was seriously just a few plays away for this team. We'll see in 2016.
2. Three of the the Vols four losses come from teams that are combined 21-3. Do you think Tennessee is a better team than the record shows?
Absolutely. Play-calling and poor execution lost them those games, but this team's talent level is on par with the best teams in the SEC. The coaching staff appears to have learned from their mistakes, and I hope they can continue to play like they did in the second half against Georgia and in games against Alabama and Kentucky for the rest of the season.
3. Darrin Kirkland Jr. has burst on to the scene at linebacker since the start of regular SEC play and is coming off an impressive outing against Kentucky last week. Where have you seen him improve most on the field this year?
Mostly his consistency. He's always had the tools, even though he's just a freshman, to do what he's been doing lately. He just needed to get some experience, learn the playbook more, and get comfortable out there. Give him the rest of this season and another offseason in the weight room and to digest the playbook, and Kirkland could take the kind of jump his teammate Jalen Reeves-Maybin did from freshman to sophomore year.
4. Joshua Dobbs has had huge improvements with his passing game this season after being more of a threat with his legs in 2014. Are his passing numbers more of a testament to his progression, or does it speak more to the talent at the receiver position?
A little of both if I had to say. The receiving corps was very banged up last season, and while they've certainly suffered injuries this year, they have more overall talent available at the position too. But one thing head coach Butch Jones and offensive coordinator Mike DeBord raved about this fall was how much Dobbs had evolved as a passer and worked on his mechanics. Sure, he'll still miss some throws and will sail passes high more often than he should, but he's hitting more often than he's missing, and he's missing less than he used to.
5. 2013 was my first trip to Knoxville and Neyland stadium, and I've got to say I was pleasantly surprised (especially with how much the town still idolizes Peyton Manning). What makes Knoxville a unique place for you? And where do you rank it with other college towns you've visited? I've got to say, even with a few empty seats up top, that was one of the loudest games I've ever been to, and I'm sure that was merely a typical atmosphere there.
Knoxville is an extremely unique town. I've not been to too many other college towns in the SEC, but from what other cities I've been to I can say Knoxville is one of my absolute favorites. Of course, I'm very biased because I've grown up here, but it offers so much. If you like rustic hikes and outdoors stuff, we have that. If you want more of a city feel, we have that too. If you like higher end merchandise and living, Knoxville has that. If you want to live with the basics and on your own, you can do that here too. And don't even get me started on Neyland. Easily my favorite atmosphere of any game I've been to. Take just this season for example. I was at UT's season opener in Nashville in the Tennessee Titans' stadium, and the atmosphere, sound, and quality wasn't even close to a Saturday in Neyland. Hearing 102,000-plus people scream their lungs out is something I cannot describe.
6. Staying in the past, how big of a win was that for Butch Jones? It seemed like it kind of solidified himself as the man for the job from my perspective.
It was, to borrow one of Jones's favorite phrases, critical for him and this program. The Vols hadn't had anything to really brag about in terms of conference wins since 2009, and that game and the previous game against Georgia showed that Jones-led teams were going to have more fight in them than anything Dooley ever had in his teams. Even though the Vols went 5-7 that season, it showed what this staff was capable of getting out of their team.
7. Just because we're still obsessed with the almighty HBC, part of me fears Spurrier isn't done yet. What are the chances Steve heads back home to Tennessee and throws his name out there to call some ball plays as OC for his home state team?
As much as a lot of Vol fans dislike Spurrier, I can't imagine a single soul not being okay with this. I know I would be in heaven if we got someone like Spurrier here to cover on a daily basis just from a media perspective. You guys were very lucky to be able to cover him and get the kind of quotes he delivered on a weekly basis. But looking at it from a football perspective, I think he'd be an upgrade over what the Vols have now. I think he'd be an upgrade over most offensive coordinators in college football actually. But I doubt he'd ever relegate himself to being merely a coordinator ever again, and I also highly doubt he'd want to come to UT, the school he's hated more than any other (aside from Clemson possibly). So as much as we'd like it here, I don't imagine it will happen.