It looks like Tennessee's time in South; UCLA sniffing roses again
When Johnny Majors took the reins at his alma mater nine years ago, Tennessee backers envisioned almost an immediate return to the school's former football glory. It hasn't exactly worked that way. After twice earning national Coach of the Year honors at Pittsburgh, where his Panthers won the 1976 national championship, Majors has labored unsuccessfully to build Tennessee into a major national power. There have been no major bowl appearances, no Southeastern Conference championships, and no selection to any final Top 20 polls.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Now, at last, the 16th-ranked Volunteers are cornering some national attention. Quarterback Tony Robinson made the cover of Sports Illustrated after Tennessee upset Auburn in late September, and barring an upset, the Vols could wind up winning their first league title since 1969 and securing an automatic Sugar Bowl berth with victories in their last two games
Tennessee, 6-1-2 overall and 3-1 in conference play, finishes out its season against two of the SEC's weaker teams, Kentucky and Vanderbilt. Louisiana State and Alabama are still in the running too, but LSU is 4-1-1, Alabama 3-1-1, and those ties could make all the difference. (Despite a conference-leading 5-1 record, Florida is ineligible for both the SEC championship and post-season action as the result of an NCAA probation.)
Though Tennessee has the inside track in the conference race, there is one fly in the ointment. Robinson has been sidelined by an injury and won't return for the remainder of his senior season.
In Robinson's absence, however, senior Daryl Dickey has proved an adequate, if less flashy, replacement. Interestingly, his father, Doug, coached the Vols to their last SEC crown and is currently the school's athletic director. On Saturday, Daryl enjoyed his best day as a starter, completing 11 of 17 passes for 203 yards in Tennessee's 34-14 victory over Mississippi.
The offense also received a lift from Sam Henderson, a running back who fits in perfectly with this year's ``Refrigerator'' craze, caused by bulky pro lineman and cameo runner William Perry. Normally a fullback, the 250-pound Henderson scored his first touchdown runs in two years as a fill-in tailback.
Tennessee's young, untested defense, a question mark when the season began, has come on strongly and helped hold things together. Enthusiasm has grown for this unit, which is the focus of a name-the-defense contest in the Knoxville Journal. Among the names under consideration are Orange Swarm, Orange Peelers, and Orange Squeeze.
In case you hadn't guessed, orange is the school color, and Neyland Stadium turns into a sea of it on Saturday afternoons. The riverfront structure, named for former coach Bob Neyland, holds 91,249 spectators, making it the second largest on-campus stadium in the country.
This has been a very quiet year on the West Coast, with few teams or players making national waves. About the only exception is eighth-ranked UCLA, the Pacific-10 Conference's sole representative in the writers' latest Top 20 poll. By beating Southern California on Saturday -- a strong possibility given the disarray the Trojans find themselves in -- UCLA would secure its third Rose Bowl trip in the last four years. And whatever team the Big Ten sends to Pasadena, the Bruins stand a good chance of prevailing given their recent history. They are a spotless 4-0 in the Rose Bowl under Coach Terry Donahue, and they have earned New Year's Day bowl victories in each of the last three years, an achievement no other school can claim.MDNM