For Big Orange Nation, game weeks are a waiting game. Not waiting on kickoff, but waiting to see if there will be any news on the future of Tennessee football.
This waiting game is one that features plenty of frustration.
Best ways to pass the time? There are plenty of options.
How about a dive deep into Jon Gruden rumors? Has he bought a house? Has he met with NCAA officials? Is that tie that he’s wearing orange or yellow? Does he have an offer? Is his wife, Cindy, buying Tennessee décor? Is the famed Groupon named after Gruden (if not, it should be)?
Not interested in Gruden watch? Tired of reading Hubbs say he's ‘not sure if Gruden wants to coach again’? Fear of tearing up the F5 button on your computer? Then maybe Gruden watch isn't the healthiest way to pass time.
There's always the opportunity to work on the honey-do list. Ok, seriously, no self-respecting football fan is working on a honey do list in the middle of football season, regardless of how disappointing the year is going. Sorry, foolish thought. I should lose my man card for such an idea.
So how about watching classic Tennessee games? You remember those, when the Vols were on the forefront of the landscape of college football. Epic finishes, complete dominations of rival teams. That's compelling considering if the Vols lose Saturday at Missouri, they will be winless not only this year in the SEC, but also winless in their last game against every SEC team. And a first-ever, eight-loss seasons becomes a strong possibility for this Tennessee team.
Don't want to live in the past?
How about researching other coaches in college football? Hey, that might put you with Vol athletic director John Currie right now. I mean honestly, does anyone really know what he's thinking?
So here's one suggestion to help you pass the time: notice the growth of youth in the program.
Yes, I am serious.
Last week in this space, I wrote about Jarrett Guarantano. The redshirt freshman is growing. In his last two games, Guarantano has 18 completions of ten yards or more, five have been for 20+ yards. In is first five games, he only had nine completions of over 10 yards and that included just one of 20+ yards. His completion percentage the last two games: 75%.
Then, there's a guy like Nigel Warrior. A year ago everyone was clammoring for Warrior to get on the field. Today, the game is slowing down and Warrior's play is on the rise. The sophomore safety is attacking in the run game. He's erasing potential big plays in the back end. Perfect, he isn't and Saturday will be a huge challenge, but Warrior has clearly made big strides the last two weeks. Shy Tuttle is finding his way back. His five tackles against Southern Miss marked a career high and it was most productive game since getting hurt his freshman year.
There are others like Ty Chandler and Trey Smith, who's having the most impressive true freshman year on the offensive line that I have ever seen. And there are others.
Not interested in this “happy talk” right now? Understandable. But a lot of other people are.
People who count a lot more than me.
This growth among the young Vols is one of the big reasons that Butch Jones is trying like heck to keep this job. If he is interested in coaching again, it’s one of the reasons that Jon Gruden would consider Tennessee. If he does decide to make a change, it’s one of the things that John Currie will be trying to sell to coaches and their agents.
At some spots, Tennessee is not devoid of talent, especially young talent. The most positive thing that will come out of 2017 for the Vols is that young players are being forced to get valuable practice and game reps that will have them more ready for 2018.
For the Big Orange fanbase, the waiting game is extremely difficult. Every week, there's more bad news, highlighted this week by the decommitment of five-star offensive lineman and legacy Cade Mays. It's making November (which features a win, by the way) painful and potentially very long.
I get it.
But if you dig into the actual football and not the rumor-mill, you might just see enough positives to get you through the next 16 days with your sanity intact.