Why Is Everybody So Angry About the Vols?

Photo credit: Kim Clement (USA Today)

You see it everywhere.

Social media is rife with it. Mainstream sports media is dissecting it. The Paul Finebaum show is inundated with it for twenty hours a week.

After the AP Poll was released on Sunday with the Tennessee Volunteers ranked #9, the angry opposing fan chatter has quadrupled. “Annually overrated” is a familiar refrain that has Finebaum shaking his head every afternoon. “Rocky Flop” is a favorite phrase of SEC trolls. “Twelve in a row” seems to show up on Twitter daily from Florida faithful.

The entire college football fan base seems to be outraged that UT is in the preseason top ten. But if you look a little deeper, you can see something else.

Fear.

Preseason polls don’t mean much in the grand scheme of things. The AP Poll, for example, is a survey of writers who are making educated guesses about a team’s chances. As a result, there isn’t a specific set of factors that all voters are required to consider. Also, the media is subject to bandwagon impulses — like the one that had them all buying into Auburn because of QB Jeremy Johnson last year.

But there are two methods which have predicted the outcome of a team’s season that are generally accepted as more accurate: ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) and Vegas odds makers.

The FPI has UT favored to win every single game in 2016. Three games have ratings just over 50% — Georgia is projected as the Vols’ most difficult game with a 55.8% chance of winning, followed by Alabama at 58.9% and Texas A&M at 59.3%. The next most difficult game is Florida — with an 80.2% rating.

Vegas odds makers are high on Tennessee, as well. Across the boards, Vegas has UT at 10+ wins, and some individual sites are even higher.

Now the Vols are loaded with upperclassmen among their 17 returning starters. They go from being supremely talented but inexperienced last year to supremely talented and experienced this year. That’s a dangerous combination, and one that I believe will allow them to run away with the SEC East title.The schedule is the biggest obstacle as they draw Alabama and Texas A&M from the West. But they do get Florida and Alabama at home and can win both of those games. They also have South Carolina and Vanderbilt on the road and should win both of those. They could split their road games at Georgia and Texas A&M, which would leave them at 11–1 overall and a trip to the SEC Championship Game. I couldn’t be bigger on the Vols than I am in 2016.

There’s a reason other fan bases are hating all the Vols talk this year. They aren’t angry that UT is overrated. They’re angry because they fear that the Vols are underrated.

Both the FPI and Vegas odds makers are predicting the same thing: a huge season, the end of streaks in two rivalries, a return to division dominance and the SEC championship game. It’s very telling that Georgia and A&M are considered the toughest games — mainly because they’re away. With only three games given an FPI winning percentage of less than 80%, and the current odds of Tennessee winning the national championship at a stout 12–1, you can’t blame other fans for being angry.

They’re angry because they’re afraid that both Vegas and the FPI are right. After all, they usually are.

“If preseason FPI had been used with no update to predict every game of the 2014 season, the FPI favorite would have won 71 percent of FBS-versus-FBS games (Vegas closing line was 74 percent accurate).”

So let the trolls hate. Let the Alabama fans call poor Paul Finebaum and yell about how Tennessee is always overrated. Don’t let some silly Gator get under your skin talking about the streak. Even Jalen Tabor has deleted his Twitter account. (No, I’m not calling anyone Teez. Not on my watch.)

The fact of the matter is simple.

The FPI and Vegas are backing the Vols in the annual autumn celebration of the Hunger Games. Their forecast for the 2016 season is shouting, “May the odds be ever in your favor!” to Team 120.

Let the games begin.