Don't cry Vol fans.
Don't go burn down the local Chick-fil-A, either.
Don't boycott Outback Steakhouse and don't picket Randy Sanders' house.
If fact, don't worry about the 2004 season at all.
Aside from the fact your beloved Vols are losing the heart of their offense (Casey Clausen) and the only part of the secondary that mattered (Gibril Wilson), Tennessee will be a better team next season.
They won't win as many games, but they will be better. How, you may ask?
If anything good came of the Vols' humiliating loss to Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, it was that. You can't win and compete for a national title every season.
Miami couldn't do it. Historic programs like Oklahoma even have trouble. Current national power Ohio State will start its slide next season.
Vol fans must understand the glory days are gone and with them the talent.
Peyton is gone. Jamal Lewis is on his way to the Hall of Fame. And Tee Martin is teaching P.E. somewhere.
Tennessee was second only to Miami in the number of players sent to the NFL over the past decade, but looking at this year's team the trend will not continue.
Clausen and Wilson are good NFL prospects, but likely won't be taken until the later rounds. Linebacker Kevin Burnett was a top prospect before the season (sadly, he still thinks he is), but a slow year knocked him off most scouts' charts.
Considering the 1999 Vols went 9-3 with nine future NFL starters, 10-3 for this year's squad doesn't sound too bad.
But the draft status of this year's seniors doesn't mean all the talent is gone. It still exists in the form of a strong linebacker unit, a potentially gifted receiving corps and an underdeveloped trio of running backs.
It will be the latter that will carry the Vols to whatever success they achieve in 2004. Let's review.
Casey Clausen is gone, but his brother Rick is not. C.J. Leak should be back for a sixth-year of eligibility, and UT is likely to land another top quarterback having already received confirmation from high-school prospect Erik Ainge.
So with inexperience at signal-caller, the Vols will run and run a lot. Cedric Houston should find a Band-Aid and some field vision, while Jabari Davis needs more carries and Gerald Riggs needs to stop being a distraction.
Even Corey Larkins has his moments.
The Vols will improve because, once again, the running game will be the strength of the offense. Vol fans love to harp on Sanders' conservative play calling, but head coach Phillip Fulmer would call the same plays.
With a new emphasis on the running game, Fulmer will be happy and the Vol offense should click with an improved receiving corps and balance.
None of this means Tennessee will play for a national title or even a divisional title. Georgia returns several players and once again should be the class of the Eastern Division. Florida is a year older.
A win over either would make the Vols' year.
Anyone who disagrees may point to the current team's wins over Florida and Miami. So again, let's review.
Florida finished 8-5 - again. And even though Fulmer coached a good game, Miami basically handed over the November contest with turnovers and penalties.
Both games pushed the Volunteers back into the national spotlight, but the Peach Bowl should prove they still have a case of stage fright.
The Vols started and finished the season ranked No. 16 in the Coaches Poll, so don't consider the season a loss.
Give Fulmer time.
The running game will get better, someone will shine at quarterback and John Chavis will find a way to stop the run next season.
If not - then you can start crying.
- Glenn LaFollette is the sports editor of The Daily Beacon and a senior in electronic media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Not the pits: Bowl offers some hope
Published: Mon Jan 12, 2004 | Modified: Sat Aug 06, 2005 05:40 p.m.