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Tennessee's Season, In a Nutshell

Don't even need proper nouns for this one.

Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Listen, every pre-season, there comes along a team that's been not-so-quietly adding talent to its roster over a few-year period. That team, whether through an unexpected win, or series of close losses to actual good teams, likely showed in the previous season glimpses of what might maybe happen in the future if it ever got its shit together, wholly. Now, the talent in which that team is relying on is still, probably, pretty young, which means it could be prone to the mental and physical lapses young people everywhere fall victim to, both on and off a football field; but, no matter, many will ignore this because that front-line talent is really good on paper.

In this particular case, the team we're discussing here plays in a division as unheralded as can be. The division as a whole won't be great this season, and in fact, it wasn't good last year, or the year before that, or before that, or before that, or before that, or before that, and really, even before that. So, this particular team's perception is now even further bolstered by the fact that quite nearly all of its games—on paper—are winnable. That aforementioned youth will manage to scare some pundits away from predicting anything of significance for this team. However, the folks choosing to hop on the bandwagon still outnumber significantly those choosing to let it drive by. And so, as it goes, the team has moved up from dark horse to sexy pick. Suddenly, an outfit that was once unburdened by trivial things like attention and expectations is now expected to not only contend, but maybe even win something of consequence like say, it's first divisional championship in nigh a decade. This team will go on to experience some early season success, like beating a college football blueblood at home in the second game of the season, for example.

So now that team, and its fans, and those omniscient experts, are feeling good about themselves; there will be high-fives, and "I told you so's!" and maybe even predictions of bigger things to come, like an outright conference championship, or a playoff berth—I mean, big, honkin' predictions. Except, that team is still young, right? So when tested again two weeks later, against a team it hasn't beaten in a decade—and on the road no less—with hype up the wazoo during the week leading up to said matchup, and a quartet of respected talking heads gushing over the team for hours outside the stadium which its set to play in soon after, the team is going to lose. It'll be a close loss, the kind of which the outcome could have easily gone the other way; so as a result, the wind won't be completely taken out of the team's sails like many will predict immediately after the defeat. As such, when the team is soon after tested over the next two weeks, and by a pair of formidable outfits, it will prevail over both. Suddenly, the noise will return, being so louder than it was after that win over the blueblood (whom I should mention, has won every game since that loss, making the team's win over it look even better in hindsight.)

The team will then enter a bye week, a week in which although they won't play, they'll still manage to be the talk of the sport. The coach of the team will make an appearance on the show hosted by that quartet of talking heads, and he will be asked about his team's impending game against what has inarguably been the sport's best program for the past six years or so. This program has beaten the coach's team eight times in a row (although the coach has only been around for two such beatings), and is a major, major rival; in fact, their annual contest has a nickname—that's how big it is. Now the program hasn't been its normal self during the season's early going—it lost a couple of games, and in uncharacteristic fashion—but still, both the talent and mental edge factors rest with them. Game week will be another of immense hype and hullaballoo for the team; however, it will again succumb to the elephantine expectations placed upon it, and lose to the program on the road, in ugly fashion. Though the first loss didn't deflate the team, or its hopes, this one will.

The team will lose the following week, on the road against a divisional doormat that's been a thorn for opponents all season; and then drop another game a few weeks later to one of the division's more solid outfits. Simultaneously, one of the divisional opponents whom the team upended earlier in the year, will go on a tear, a tear that ends with said group finishing atop the divisional rankings at season's end. The team will then settle for second place in the division, a finish that suggests the expectations placed upon it early on weren't terribly off-base, but still perhaps a little heavy for this particular juncture in the team's development. Next year, though. Next year those predictions may be dead-on.