It’s not exactly a closely-guarded secret that the Tennessee Volunteers are acutely affected by others’ impressions of them. As a general rule, great expectations lead to great disappointments (either an outright loss or an unimpressive win) and double-digit spreads motivate them to prove everyone wrong.
This phenomenon occurs both collectively and on an individual level. If you haven’t noticed it yet, watch it for awhile, and it will become clear.
As one corporate example, the 1997 team was led by Peyton Manning and staffed with NFL talent, but they underachieved (a bit). The next year, there were essentially no expectations for the entire season. After all, Peyton was gone, and Tee Martin had never started a game. When Jamal Lewis was hurt early in the season, all hopes went down the drain. But by the end of the season, the team was undefeated and ranked number 1 in the country. Even then, though, their opponent — a one-loss Florida State Seminole team — was favored to win the BCS National Championship game. Heck, after they won, the commentators chalked the Vol win up to the fact that FSU had to play with a third-string quarterback.
The next year, with essentially the same team returning (plus Jamal Lewis), the expectations were again sky high, and the team underachieved yet again.
On the individual level, watch just about any player the week following a week during which they garner significant attention. It’s most often a bust.
There are exceptions to the Spotlight Effect — see, e.g., Jason Allen and Jessee Mahelona. The exceptions are generally found in very mature and experienced players, those that not only are solid character guys, but have probably already fallen victim to the Spotlight Effect a time or two and vowed to never let it happen again.
Still the general rule holds true. When the Spotlight shines, the team, unit, or player often wilts, and when the Spotlight is directed away from the team, the unit, or the player, they excel in the peripheral glow in an attempt to get back into the Spotlight.
So, under the Spotlight Effect, who’s due for good and bad performances this week against the dreaded Georgia Bulldogs?
Expect Good Games from:
- The Wide Receiver Corps. The “this is one of the most talented group of receivers in the country” meme is finally dying off. The receivers have been praised to high heaven since the final whistle last season, and it was only this week that a new meme began to propagate. Former Vol and current lawyer and sports agent Tim Irwin apparently called them out on a local t.v. or radio show earlier this week saying that they “looked like Tarzan and played like Jane.” John Pennington has been saying the same thing for a few weeks now, and Knoxville sports radio hosts and callers have jumped on the band wagon this week. So, the Spotlight is off the group and they finally have something to prove. Expect that they will.
- Rick Clausen.This poor guy is still not getting getting his due. UT fans seem to appreciate him — in a sort of backhanded way. “Oh, he’s a great leader and decision-maker. Too bad he can’t do anything but dink it around.” So everyone, including the coaches, are telling Rick that he can’t throw the long ball. You’d think they’d have learned not to tell Rick he can’t do something. Maybe he can’t throw it 80 yards, but I don’t know that he can’t throw it 40 or 50, and really, that’s plenty. And so what if he can’t? Isn’t he the same style of quarterback as David Greene, who became the winningest quarterback in SEC history? Check that, in NCAA history. I think that Rick is too mature and experienced to suffer the negative effects of having the Spotlight shine on him, but I think he’s still motivated by people telling him he can’t do it.
Expect a Poor Game from:
- The Secondary. In stark contrast to the high expectations of the wide receiver corps, everyone has said from day one that the Vols’ biggest weakness was its secondary (apart from Jason Allen). But the thing is, they’ve actually played quite well. For two games in a row now, the secondary has made big plays, first with Jonathan Heffney’s interception-for-an-almost-touchdown against LSU and second with Jonathan Wade’s interception-for-a-touchdown last week against Ole Miss, and the group has rightly received its due this week from local media and fans. Unfortunately, Spotlight Theory suggests that will be the kiss of death this week or next. Let’s hope, though, that this group is mature and experienced enough to thwart the theory. Allen can, and perhaps Wade has learned his lesson (subscription required):
“Last year, there were times when I might have had a good game and it went to my head,” Wade said. “Then, the next game was just horrendous.
“I know now that one game means nothing if the rest of them are bad. I’m just trying to stay humble and stay focused.”