It has been quite the hit parade for Sun Belt Conference teams going on the road this football season to garner impressive victories in home stadiums of the so-called big boys.
Already, MTSU has won at Georgia Tech, Louisiana-Monroe took to the road to beat Arkansas, and Western Kentucky won at in-state rival Kentucky. There have been other significant non-league wins for Sun Belt teams, especially going 5-1 against Conference USA teams thus far.
On two separate occasions, Troy tried to join the trio of Sun Belt brethren that have knocked off teams from conferences still carrying Bowl Championship Series bowl game automatic qualification. Then again, that BCS “A-Q” designation is good for only this year and next until the new format comes to fruition.
Twice, the Trojans have fallen short, first losing 30-24 on Sept. 15 at Mississippi State and then 55-48 on Saturday at Tennessee in a game where the winning coach – third-year Vols skipper Derek Dooley – appeared on the verge of being a dead-man walking as the team’s head coach, especially if it had lost to a middle-of-the-pack Sun Belt Conference team.
Let’s emphasize that middle-of-the-pack Sun Belt adjective when it comes this year to describing Troy, a team that went on quite a run as the league’s elite but has now gone 4-5 overall and 3-3 in league play. That includes an embarrassing loss a week ago Saturday to Florida Atlantic, the winner of only one Division I-A game thus far.
And here was Troy taking Tennessee to the limit. In fact, there are probably quite a few Troy fans this morning who are lamenting the one that got away in Knoxville. After all, it appeared that Troy, much by cause of its inexplicable play-calling late in the game, lost the contest as much as the 18-point favorite Vols won it.
Which brings us to Dooley. How appropriate the mental metaphor that Dooley walked across the field with the aid of a crutch to shake the hand of veteran Troy coach Larry Blakeney. It seems only a matter of time that UT athletics director Dave Hart pulls the plug on Dooley and his three-year tenure of leading the Vols into a complacent world of football mediocrity.
After all, UT sits at 0-5 in Southeastern Conference play for a third-straight season. And when you glanced around Neyland Stadium on Saturday, there sure seemed to be a lot of empty seats. Apathy is a college football program’s worst enemy.
Sure, Dooley inherited a mess. But please point out the encouraging signs of a resurgence for the once-proud program that jettisoned veteran coach Phillip Fulmer, replaced him with one-and-done Lane Kiffin, and then scrambled before former UT AD Mike Hamilton settled on the unproven Dooley at the helm .
Sitting at 4-5, the Vols need to run the table to get to seven wins. That would include beating a Missouri team that nearly won at Florida on Saturday, a Vanderbilt team that went on the road to smoke Kentucky, which holds Dooley’s most glaring setback when the Wildcats beat UT for the first time last year since Methuselah was a child with a receiver turned quarterback.
Had Troy held up its Sun Belt part of the bargain and won at Tennessee like it probably thought it should have, then there very well could be the news coming down today that UT was in the marketplace for a new head coach.
As it apparently stands when you watch these hapless Vols, that inevitable news seems only delayed for the time being.
Greg Pogue is host of the Wendy’s First Quarter on 102.5-FM The Game ESPN Radio Nashville. E-mail him at GregPogue@1025thegame.com.