The Tennessee Volunteers are set to host their first-ever game against brand-new SEC rival Missouri at Neyland Stadium Saturday (12:21 p.m., WVLT), but there seems to be more gloom in Big Orange Country than excitement.
There’s a lot of blame going around for what’s generally considered a disappointing season — blame directed at head coach Derek Dooley, his assistants and/or the players.
Meanwhile, there’s potentially an even darker problem arising: growing apathy among fans and dropping attendance at games.
They stayed away from Neyland Stadium by the tens of thousands last weekend, and university officials have to be concerned. Not only do empty seats represent lost revenue in the short term, once fans decide there are better things to do on autumn Saturdays in East Tennessee than go to a football game, they might be reluctant to come back once the Vols start playing better,
And the Vols will start playing better. In fact, it can be argued they already are. All five of this year’s losses have come to ranked teams, and four of those are in the top 8 of the current BCS standings. Also, say what you will about Dooley’s dismal record as an underdog, when his Vols are favored (notwithstanding last year’s Kentucky game), they typically pull through — even if it’s in ugly fashion (Troy, Akron).
UT would seem to have a decent chance to win these last three games — Missouri, Vanderbilt (OK, that one’s looking scary now) and Kentucky — and if Tennessee sweeps, that would give the Vols a 7-5 regular season record and a likely spot in a bowl.
Not many folks are crowing about that, however. So we ask this simple question: What is Tennessee’s biggest problem?