There is a lot of speculation surrounding the Tennessee football program this season. Will Derek Dooley keep his job? Will the trio of Tyler Bray, Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogets produce the way fans hope? Will they be in Knoxville after this season? But in the wake of all of the debates, students on Rocky Top are optimistic that this season will be different than the past two.
"I think we'll be a lot better than the past two years," said Jeff Tulham, junior in architecture. "In Dooley's first year the team had to learn a new system then last year injuries put the team in a tough position. If they are healthy this year we'll be a force."
The Volunteers are coming off their first back-to-back losing season since the Taft administration, but fans are hopeful for what All-American receiver Rogers and star wideout Hunter can do against defenses.
"I love watching Da'Rick. He is a fun player who makes big plays when it comes to him," said Jessica Stevens, sophomore in business. "The SEC has some of the best defenses around but Da'Rick was able to do a whole lot even without Justin on the other side."
Though students in Knoxville are hoping for the best, the SEC Media picked the Vols to finish fourth in the SEC East this year, behind Georgia, South Carolina and Florida.
"We'll have some really tough games, but you always do when you play in the SEC," said Heath Avery, junior in geography. "We lost to Kentucky last season so hopefully the guys will have a chip on their shoulder with something to prove this year."
The Volunteers will host Alabama, Florida and SEC newcomer Missouri this season, which should make for exciting weekends this fall.
"I can't wait for gameday. There is nothing like it, especially in the SEC. It doesn't get any better," said Tulham.
"Of course hosting the defending National Champion will be very exciting and Florida is always fun, but I think I'm most excited to see Missouri for the first time," said Stevens. "They don't really know what it's like to be in the SEC yet, so as a Tennessee fan I want to give them a warm welcoming to Neyland."
With Dooley's job in apparent danger, fans will be watching the decision-making and outcome of every game with even more intent than usual.
"I like Dooley, he seems like a really nice guy, but we haven't won a single important game under him since he came," said Avery. "It's going to take him eight wins to keep his job. Otherwise the school needs to reconsider the direction the program is headed. We are suppose to be a perennial top 25 team. I think they can do it though. As long as Bray plays like he did before his injury we will be fine."
The season is only a few weeks away and hopes are high in Knoxville for 2012. There are high hopes for the Volunteers this year and students are ready for the Big Orange to take to the field once more.
"There is nothing like seeing the team sprint out of the 'T' before the first home game. It is one of the best tradition in sports," said Tulham.