This seems to be a weird time of year to be a Vol fan.
This year, the Tennessee football team boasts an 8-2 record and at least a share of the SEC East title for the sixth time in Phillip Fulmer's 13 years as coach.
UT beat Florida, Georgia and Alabama in the same season for the second time in Fulmer's tenure. And the man with an 0.801 all-time winning percentage (131-20) will have a chance to guide his team to a rematch win against Auburn (11-0, 8-0 SEC) in the SEC Championship on Dec. 4.
However, when the Vols wrap up their regular season at home against Kentucky on Saturday, Neyland Stadium likely won't be at full capacity. Sure, the announced crowd will probably surpass the 100,000 mark after taking into account all the ushers, concession workers, members of the press, ambulance drivers and of course, Smokey.
But Orange Nation won't show up hours before kickoff (like it did against Florida) to heckle the Wildcats.
I'd be surprised if even a quarter of the student section is filled when poster-boy Kevin Burnett and UT's other seniors are honored before the game after posting a 37-12 record the last four years - including three wins on the road against top-10 opponents (Florida, Miami, Georgia).
Instead, since I've been a student at Tennessee, it seems to me the fans take their bye weeks during the Vols' last two regular-season games against SEC East cellar-dwellers Vanderbilt and Kentucky.
Last season in UT's home finale, I felt like I was at a funeral rather than a football game.
Just like last November's game against Vanderbilt, the Vols' final game in front of the rowdy-until-the-first-loss crowd at Neyland this year will be for a chance at securing at least a nine-win season.
Does that mean the supposedly more-than-100,000 fans in attendance will again start flooding the exit gates at halftime instead of bidding farewell to Burnett and Cedric Houston as they line up for their final snaps on Shields-Watkins Field?
Is it because the negativity of the sports editor of UT's college newspaper has destroyed the fans' hopes for this season?
If that's the case, please don't tell me. If I knew my words had that much impact on the emotions of the students on this campus, my co-workers at The Daily Beacon would be left to clean up the pieces of my oversized head splattered around the newsroom for weeks to come.
I'm a sports writer. It's my job to be negative.
As fans, it's your job to prove my words are crap by supporting your team regardless of the circumstances.
But the circumstances aren't even all that bad this year.
With a win against Kentucky, the words "Peach Bowl" no longer have to show up in the nightmares of Vol fans everywhere.
If Tennessee handles the Wildcats like it should, I see the SEC Championship - with the winner earning an automatic trip to a BCS bowl game - as a battle between unbeaten quarterbacks.
After all, Rick Clausen - who started one game at LSU in 2002 (a 14-13 win over Ole Miss) - would be undefeated as a starter (3-0).
Now, that may sound weird.
But at least it's positive.
- Matt Giles is the sports editor of The Daily Beacon and a senior in journalism. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Year-end contests need fans
Published: Thu Nov 11, 2004 | Modified: Sat Aug 06, 2005 06:34 p.m.