Derek Dooley's efforts have still not won Tennessee enough merit to break through the ranks in the preseason polls. Any number of conclusions can be drawn, but the end results are still the same.
The Volunteers have not yet earned back that SEC respect they are accustomed to.
As I said, you make any excuse you like, but the fact remains that the Vols have not done enough in the media's eyes to garner their approval as being worthy of any legitimate fear.
Georgia ended their season last year with an identical record and managed to be humbled by UCF in the Liberty, but still managed to break through in at No. 22.
Penn State also finished with the same record and lost early in the season to unranked Illinois. Does Ron Zook out trump Joe Pa? Regardless, Joe Paterno's new glasses, or lack thereof wins him enough points with a QB he never wanted to begin with to sneak in at No. 25.
What about Texas? Yeaahaa, the Longhorns—don't ask no darn questions, right? They finished the season 5-7 with a loss midseason to No. 25 Baylor, then lost their last game to No. 17 Texas A&M to kill their bowl berth.
Huhh? Well, since it's Texas and Mack Brown minus the defensive coordinator that was supposed to take over the whole program, we'll let 'em have No. 24.
Should the Vols be ranked at least No.25?
What about the Gators, they're legit, right? Florida lost its last two games against ranked opponents last season and lost midseason to unranked Mississippi St. by a score of 10-7.
But they did beat unranked Penn State 37-24 in the Outback, although the game was closer than the score reflects. Whatever the case may be, even with the loss of their championship coach and the indoctrination of a half dozen new ones they slip into the poll at No. 23.
Then there is Mizzou. Now I can see them in the poll, at No. 25, but not 21. To be honest, of all the teams I mentioned above, none of them save for Mizzou deserves to be where they are.
There was no research or discipline injected into this poll. These teams were plastered into limelight based off flimsy merit that dates back three seasons ago. Which leads back to the truth.
Of the seven games that Tennessee lost last season, only two of those were against unranked opponents, yet those two games were teams that were previously ranked for at least three weeks apiece.
So we're back to drawing conclusions. The Vols are still plagued by injuries, whether it be a broken foot, ankle or an injured Achilles. Then there is the fact that the youth outweighs the experienced.
You can say that the Vols are more seasoned now that they have been baptised by the SEC fires. And you would probably be more right than wrong.
In truth the Vols are just as experienced as the above mentioned teams, yet they still remain at the bottom of the pecking order.
Will anything change that? Yes, winning.
It won't matter if Derek Dooley runs out and finds a blue chip to fill every position on the roster, they will still get no love. Only with winning and winning against ranked opponents will it ever matter.
Because right now even with comparable recruiting classes and experienced staff, it does not do the Vols the justice as it does the others.
Look at it this way. Think back 10 years ago; if someone told you that Boise State, TCU, Mississippi St., Wisconsin and Stanford would be ranked in the top 25 and the Vols wouldn't even make the cut, would you have believed it?
The common thread for them is they have been winning; the rest of them....well I would daresay somebody somewhere now owes someone a favor.