Greeson: Vols, Dogs fans have excitement become anxiety

Greeson: Vols, Dogs fans have excitement become anxiety

October 10th, 2009 by Jay Greeson in Sports - College

What happened?

As with most Saturdays this time of year, Tennessee and Georgia play football today. Today, though, they play each other -- a date that would normally stir this area's spirits like a swizzle stick.

Not this time. No, this day, this game, has created roughly the same excitement as a baby shower. Before the season started, tickets could be found on the Internet for $108. After each team suffered a loss in the first two weeks, upper-deck seats could be had for $83. Friday, seats could be found for $39.

A few more days and a few more losses, and they may be really looking for Volunteers in Neyland Stadium.

In truth, this game probably is the fourth-best on today's SEC schedule. While that's a testament to a loaded Saturday for the coach potato in each of us, it also is a cold fact about where these teams stand this morning.

And for these fan bases, which have become accustomed to success but now are faced with counting wins and plotting steps to bowl eligibility, it is not the springboard for the anticipation this game normally generates.

Don't get me wrong: The normal excitement may be missing, but there is plenty of emotion today.

There is the desperate need for Tennessee fans to see someone other than Jonathan Crompton take a snap.

There is the aching want for Georgia to establish something resembling a running game. Bulldogs fans are not overly greedy and don't expect a second coming of Herschel Walker. Heck, J.J. Walker would be better than the current Bulldogs rushing game.

There's the uneasy anxiety that the 20-point mark represents for each team. Georgia needs to get there -- it's won eight of the last nine times when it does -- and the Vols need to keep UGA below it: UT is 1-7 since the start of 2008 when foes score 20 or more.

There's the angst of the future -- both the immediate and long-term.

In the coming weeks, the outlook darkens for today's losers. If it's the Vols, a 2-4 mark with Alabama, South Carolina and Ole Miss still down the road could mean a third bowlless season in the last five years. If it's the Bulldogs on the short end this afternoon, it means UGA is a combined 13-6 since starting 2008 as the No. 1 team in the country.

For the long haul, this season only marginally can be called a rebuilding year for either team. These teams are 5-5 collectively starting fifth-year senior quarterbacks. Georgia has talented but unproven youngsters waiting in the wings; the Vols are waiting in the wings hoping to land some talented but unproven youngsters. Neither situation is a long-standing recipe for immediate dividends.

Certainly, many Vols fans believe any new quarterback will be an improvement -- an addition by subtraction in the purest sense -- but the growing pains of a new starter behind what will be almost an entirely new line will make the chores for the Vols' next quarterback more difficult.

There also is the ache of what could have been.

The Bulldogs' funk has been self-imposed more times than not. Georgia has failed to maintain the ball and its composure, ranking among the league's dregs in turnovers and penalties.

Tennessee's struggles may have been a bit more predictable -- almost every new staff can expect growing pains, and Lane Kiffin and Co. are no different -- but a quick start in recruiting and to the season made this harsh truth a little more painful. The 63-7 win over Western Kentucky seems like two years ago, doesn't it?

Like most things, though, this will pass. Both of these programs have too much tradition and resources for this brief quagmire to last.

Yes, desperation may have supplanted excitement this day, but it's a passion nonetheless. And regardless of the record or the circumstance, passion is the constant on which these programs -- and this game -- were built.