"Wish that I was on ol' Rocky Top/Down in the Tennessee hills" is the opening line of the Tennessee Volunteers' fight song.
Given the program's gradual downfall over the last 10 years, the Volunteer faithful are just wishing to get onto the top of something—rocky or not—but moonshine will probably be a necessity for the remainder of this season.
What makes Tennessee's futility this season even more sad is that it comes on the heels of nearly winning an SEC title. It's quite similar to Notre Dame's collapse a season ago following two straight BCS bowl appearances.
And it's not the fact that the Vols haven't been able to win. They've only had two losing season since 1990. It's the fact that they haven't been able to win the important games.
They have not beaten Florida since 2004, the year before Urban Meyer took over. No convincing wins over Alabama, at best, since 2001, when the Tide wasn't even a force to be reckoned with. Last season they completely imploded in the SEC championship game. Why so sharp of a downturn? Here are a few reasons.
1. The SEC has simply become better
In 1998, the pinnacle year of recent Tennessee football, the rest of the Southeastern Conference won an average of 6.1 games out of an 11 game regular season schedule. By 2006, that statistic read 7.9 victories out of 12 games.
Now, the reason everyone gives as to why the SEC is so much better than anyone else is because of their defensive play. As one sees in Tennessee, there's some truth to that.
Again, during the 1998 season, the Vols offense scored 431 points, but perhaps more importantly limiting opponents to a mere 189. In fact, in only one season since '98 did the Vols fail to outscore the opposition over the course of the season-and that year they finished dead even. Then look at the numbers this year...enough said.
2. Failure in recruiting
Fulmer's claim to fame in his earlier years was that he was one of the top recruiters among college coaches. Indeed, he snatched up and made stars out of the likes of Donte' Stallworth, Jason Witten, Peyton Manning, and Travis Henry. As of the last two years however, he has failed to sign a good number of top recruits, and those he has have not panned out.
3. Drop-off in production on the ground
Arian Foster rose up as the leading back last season, running for nearly 1200 yards. This year, all the Tennessee backs combined don't even have that much. This can be attributed to the lack of experience along the offensive line (which has given up 21 sacks compared to just four last season) and may perhaps be the most telling sign of Tennessee's failures.
When they've been able to run the ball and stop the run, the Vols have been successful. Too often however, they've fallen behind early, panicked, and turned hastily to the air. The Vols this season have perfectly illustrated (or been perfectly victimized by) Woody Hayes' philosophy: "When you pass, three things can happen, and two of them are bad."
It's almost a miracle that it's taken this long for Tennessee to collapse completely. Especially in the SEC. But when you fall this hard, something is bound to shatter.
It's not just Rocky Top anymore, it's rocky all the way down. And man, does it hurt.