Regular Season: Tennessee went 7-5 and 4-4 in the SEC this year. However, the Vols are one of the hotter teams in college football right now having won four of their last five regular season games. Tennessee didn't have much success away from Neyland Stadium in 2009. The Vols played well in road losses to Florida and Alabama, but were crushed in Oxford by a mediocre Ole Miss team, 42-17. The Vols got their lone road win in their last game, a 30-24 overtime win over Kentucky. Tennessee was a very inconsistent team this year, but Lane Kiffin appears to have it ahead of schedule on its way back to competing for the SEC title.
Head Coach: Kiffin has been a polarizing figure in his first 12 months on the job at Tennessee. The youngest head coach in FBS did two things when he arrived in Knoxville, both aimed at winning the recruiting war. He assembled a top-notch staff around him and starting poking the bear. Kiffin's verbal jabs at nearly everyone in the SEC may be seen as petulance from the junior member of the SEC coaching fraternity. But to me, Kiffin is just hustling. He knows winning in college football has a little to do with how well he coaches and a lot to do with getting the best football players in the country to come to Knoxville. Hockey has a term for guys like Kiffin. He's a shit disturber. Of the highest order. Talking shit to the coaching royalty of the SEC gets him and his team noticed. I have no problem with that. After all, if Kiffin's good enough for my boy Weezy, he's good enough for me.
Player to Watch on Offense: This has to be Jonathan Crompton. Look, Montario Hardesty's a great player. But that's the reason he's not the player to watch on offense for the Vols. He's going to get his yards and he's going to get into the end zone. But Crompton is the guy who's going to determine if the Vols win this game. If the Crompton we saw against Georgia shows up to the Peach Bowl, we're screwed. But if the catfish with a helmet shows up, we should win this game. Maybe even win it easily.
Player to Watch on Defense: It couldn't be anyone other than Eric Berry. The kid is a game-changer on defense and special teams and he's going to be making a lot of money next year. He needs 15 interception return yards to break the NCAA record and I'm sure he'll be doing everything he can to get it. Berry is a force to be reckoned with, but isn't putting up the same numbers he did when he first arrived in Knoxville. The reason is the same reason Kam Chancellor has struggled his last two years in Blacksburg. Chancellor was moved from rover (which for Tennessee fans reading this site is our strong safety, a hybrid DB/LB) to free safety where he has been forced to drop back more into pass coverage. When Chancellor played rover, his job was to cause havoc and destroy everything in his path, which he was pretty good at. Berry as been moved from free to strong safety, which has him more in a havoc-causing role (which he's still pretty damn good at) instead of roaming around the defensive backfield making interceptions. While Berry may or may not get his interception record against Tech, he will be a key factor in trying to stop Ryan Williams.
Tennessee in the Blogosphere: Considering SB Nation's Tennessee blog is run by one of my bosses at the mother ship, please visit Rocky Top Talk now. And then visit there again every day between now and the bowl game. It's far and away the best destination for Vol news and opinion. However, if you're feeling so inclined you can also check out these fine blogs: Gate 21, 3rd Saturday in Blogtober, Losers with Socks, Fulmer's Belly.