Originally posted on Checkerboard Chatter  |  Last updated 9/19/12

This is supposed to be the part when I don't overreact to what I saw -- or didn't see for that matter -- on Saturday. I'm supposed to pretend like I wasn't on a party bus for my buddy's bachelor party angrily doing obligatory shots and cursing under my breath in the second half as Tennessee's defense was declared MIA.

So, for all intents and purposes, I didn't buy a round of lunch boxes and take a swing at a refrigerator when Trey Burton was doing his best Martin Lawrence impersonation (Talk to the hand!) for Marsalis Teague as he skipped into the endzone for an 80-yard TD. And I most certainly didn't instinctively smash a scotch glass on the ground that, up until that point, had best been known as the holding tank for four fingers of Jameson's I had ordered to "take the edge off" as Frankie Hammond salted it away for Florida. I didn't do/won't admit to any of those things, because for two and a half years, I've been a voice of reason.

 

I wrote columns defending Derek Dooley from all the crazies, and week after week, loss after loss, I reasoned myself off the ledge. There was just cause too, especially when you consider the circumstances that Derek Dooley came into.

The best way to explain it to somebody that doesn't understand just how bad it was in Knoxville when Coach Dooley got there, is to take a look at the Penn State sanctions. The general consensus is that, with Penn State losing ten scholarships a year over the next four years, they'll come out crippled on the other side. Chances are, when Penn State's punishment, whether you view it as just or not, is served, they'll likely have between 55-65 scholarship players on their roster.

It'll take the Nittany Lions at least a few years to recover from that, with NCAA rules stipulating that a team can have up to 85 scholarship athletes on their football team, while signing no more than 25 (back-counting rules aside) in any given year. So, if Penn State comes out of this with 60 scholarship kids it will probably take three or four years just to get back to full strength in terms of depth.

Derek Dooley's first team at Tennessee in 2010 had 68 scholarship athletes.

It's Year Three of the Dooley-era now, and for the first time, he has talent and experience at virtually every position across the board. However, he still hasn't actually been able to get all the way back to 85 scholarship kids.

In a perfect world Derek Dooley would get one more season to continue to develop this roster. A Florida loss isn't the end all be all of a season where the Vols still have four very winnable conference games on the schedule (Miss. St., Missouri, Vanderbilt and Kentucky) and does have enough offensive firepower to potentially steal a victory in Athens or Columbia. However, with every second-half meltdown the patience continues to wear thin.

There's still time for Derek Dooley to swing the boom and crease the sheets in pursuit of calmer waters. After all, Florida has been Tennessee's kryptonite since Dooley was in law school. However, with very sensible expectations (seven or eight wins) for a team that a lot of people thought could be sneaky good, very reasonable people have been thinking (and doing, in my case) rather unreasonable things.

I'm not ready to completely abandon the rational I've used to defend Derek Dooley and this football program, yet -- despite my slightly influenced actions on Saturday (oh, wait, that never happened). But it's important for Coach Dooley to understand, that with every second-half collapse against an SEC opponent (and in my case every shot), those reasonable people are going to be fewer and farther between.

Every single week the pressure mounts for Coach Dooley, and even a staunch Dooley-defender like myself is finding it harder and harder to buy into the rhetoric. Especially when I'm the one spewing it.

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