Now the real season starts.
We will see if the Tennessee Vols can live up to their preseason predictions.
They won’t if they play like they did the first three games against Appalachian State, Virginia Tech and Ohio.
They had a nervous two-point lead over Ohio in the fourth quarter. The Neyland Stadium natives were restless. It was 14-12 at halftime. It was not impressive.
Even Vols Coach Butch Jones agreed.
“We have to get a lot better in a hurry,’’ Jones understated after slipping by Ohio, 28-19.
Why the rush? Well, some team from Gainesville, Florida visits Big Orange Country Saturday. The Vols haven’t beaten the Gators in 11 straight years, and if the Vols want to live up to preseason expectations of winning the East, it goes through the Gators. And no doubt Georgia will want to put its two cents worth in the debate.
The Vols are undefeated in their three games, but they have not answered many of the questions that linger on and will hinder them against the Gators if not corrected in the next seven days.
They are ranked No. 15 in both the Associated Press and Coaches polls, but they are unlikely to gain ground next week because of allowing opponents to stay close in defeat.
The Vols had to rely on the running of Jalen Hurd, Alvin Kamara and the running and passing of quarterback Joshua Dobbs, who accounted for three touchdowns — one by land and two by air.
The Vols escaped possible disaster when they fumbled five times in the game, but managed to recover all five.
The defense was put in a bind when Cam Sutton injured an ankle and had to leave the game. Jones cast doubt on Sutton returning for the Florida game. He said Sutton will be out “for an extended period of time. I hate it for his family and him.’’
Senior captain Jalen Reeves-Maybin went down with an injury, but Jones said his return for the Florida game is more positive than Sutton’s.
Starting nickelback Malik Foreman was suspended for the game for unknown reasons. His availability for Florida is to be decided. Others stepped up when starters went down.
The Vols will need all healthy hands on deck when the Gators invade Rocky Top. They are very much aware of how long the losing streak to Florida is. It’s the most important game against East teams on the schedule. They still have Alabama on the waiting list.
The most positive sign after three games is that they some way managed to go out a winner. Look around the SEC and the college football environment and see how many upsets have happened to teams that had higher hopes.
Unlike some games last season, the Vols are not falling prey to possible late game upsets.
Joe Biddle is a WKRN.com sports columnist and a member of the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.