Preseason conjecture is totally meaningless, but College Football News doesn't think much of this year's Tennessee squad. In their subject-to-change July picks for the top 50 games (see 11-20 and 31-40), the Vols have been picked to lose to Cal, Florida and Georgia.
If you want to know how meaningless preseason conjecture is, let's have a look at the schedule. I don't see any teams on here that are historically so markedly better that it's a lock for UT to lose. I also see few games that the Vols practically couldn't lose. So I'll rate games either as probable wins (PW) or toss-ups (TU).
TU 9/1/2007 @California
TU 9/8/2007 Southern Mississippi
TU 9/15/2007 @Florida
PW 9/22/2007 Arkansas State
TU 10/6/2007 Georgia
TU 10/13/2007 @Mississippi State
TU 10/20/2007 @Alabama
TU 10/27/2007 South Carolina
PW 11/3/2007 Louisiana-Lafayette(HC)
TU 11/10/2007 Arkansas
TU 11/17/2007 Vanderbilt
TU 11/24/2007 @Kentucky
That Southern Miss game is scary. The Golden Eagles went 9-5 and won played for the Conference USA title last year, but likely will still be viewed as a cupcake by the national media. They have a long history of upsetting top-tier programs. So not only are they good and not only do they have history on their side, they'll have bulletin board material. On top of that, it's sandwiched between the Cal and Florida games. It's almost as scary as Oklahoma State is for Georgia in its opener.
Kentucky and Vandy are no longer pushovers. South Carolina ought to be as good as Georgia, Florida and Tennessee this year, given that they're returning so many players and were only losing games by close margins last year. Nick Saban, who went 2-1 against Fulmer at LSU, is coaching Alabama. Arkansas probably won't be as good as last year given all the bizarre off-the-field turmoil, but they do return monster running back Darren McFadden.
So, the Vols could be looking at anything from 2-10 to 12-0, neither of which are realistic estimates, but at least theoretically possible.
Low expectations might carry the Vols through the Cal game like they did last year, but looking at the schedule, my gut, non-substantiated, too-early feeling is this is going to be another 8-5 team once the bowl game is played. That's the worst thing that could happen, as it would probably be enough for Fulmer to keep his job. At least with another losing season like 2005 he'd be fired.
The post-1999 Fulmer is basically Jim Donnan: awesome recruiter, mediocre coach.
What high profile coach is available to replace him though? That's the rub. Bobby Johnson from Vanderbilt might be a good hire.
My only hope is that the Randy Sanders years were a steady decline because Fulmer never really gave him full control of the offense as he's given to David Cutcliffe. Maybe if Fulmer is staying out of it things will get better.