Shortly after America celebrates her birthday every July 4th, the casual college football fan begins counting down the days until the season kicks off.
While some--myself included--begin this countdown much earlier, say the 100-day mark, knowing SEC football is less than two months away is exciting.
For those who aren't counting, it's 59 days until Tennessee hosts Montana on Sept. 3).
As has been the case since last season ended, UT fans are wondering if quarterback Tyler Bray will endure a sophomore slump? Or will newcomers like defensive tackle Maurice Couch, defensive back Byron Moore and linebacker A.J. Johnson make the impact coaches are expecting? Yet, the biggest question is will Janzen Jackson, arguably the Vols best player last year, be on the team this fall. Jackson, a free safety, withdrew from school during the spring semester to deal with personal issues. Many around the team are expecting him to return, possibly as early as the second session of summer school, but it's not a sure-thing.
But while these questions and many others about UT and other college football teams will go unanswered until the first week of September, the nearly two months between now and then do have enough storylines in sports to keep fans occupied.
1. MLB All-Star Game and Home Run Derby (July 11 and 12)
I almost just had the home run derby here. The All-Star game has become so watered down recently with many of the game's top players electing to sit out the event. Yet, the winning league does get home-field advantage for the World Series. The Home Run Derby, though elite sluggers decline invites to it as well, is still an exciting event. Despite being out of the steroids era when players might as well have "juiced up" between innings, towering home runs are one of the aspects of America's Pastime fans look for at ballparks. In the 2008 Home Run Derby, Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers put on an incredible performance, hitting 28 home runs in the second round in the old Yankees Stadium. Even more impressive, was Hamilton's journey back to baseball. Look it up when you get the chance.
2. EA Sports' NCAA Football 2012 (July 12)
I'll admit it. I buy this video game every year on its release date. It's one of only two I do, the other being MLB: The Show. The release of the college football video game only intensifies fans' build-up for the upcoming season. While the game always seems to leave much to be desired, it's still a must-buy for me each year. And yes, I even wait for somebody online to make each team's rosters correct. Being that the players are amateurs, EA Sports is not allowed to use the real players like it does in its NFL game, Madden. Still, they use positions and numbers to identify players (ex. Tenn. QB # 8).
3. British Open (July 14-17)
The only one of golf's four majors played outside the U.S. Yet, it has the longest history. This year's tournament will be the 140th Open Championship, and it will be played at Royal St. George's golf course in England for the 14th time. With the tournament being played across the pond, some golfers will tee off in the middle of the night, and some of the tv coverage will be delayed, but there's just something about watching golf played for four days with virtually no sun shining.
4. SEC Media Days (July 20-22)
The final hurdle between the off-season and fall camp. Held in Hoover, Ala., hearing the head coaches and select players from each of the 12 SEC schools, doesn't seem like much, but in the south it is. The fact that it's held in Alabama means a multitude of Crimson Tide and Auburn fans will wait in the lobby of the Wynfrey Hotel as the event happens. Usually, at least one drama pops up during the three-day spectacle. In 2008, former UT coach Phillip Fulmer was issued a subpoena when he arrived.
5. NFL/NBA lockouts
The NFL lockout has passed 100 days, while the NBA just recently locked its players out. Both are interesting to watch. The NFL owners want more of the league's revenue, while the players refuse to reduce its share. Without having a true off-season, the effects of the lockout are already felt, but if a deal isn't done in the next month or so, it could really begin to jeopardize the NFL season. Crazy. But as far apart as the two sides are in the NFL, the NBA owners and players are much farther apart. Its lockout could realistically force the league to cancel the 2011-12 season.