If you've read here before at all, you know that none of us tend to lean toward pessimism, and this isn't the day that changes. Think of this question more as a very good marker of what the bottom looks like for Tennessee...because as we're finding out, the bottom isn't one moment or one game, but an extended period of time where we're simply not very good, and in no way able to overcome things like three turnovers in the first half. It'll get us beat against Georgia...and right now, it may get us beat against everybody.
The computer numbers we use to run our BlogPoll and SEC Power Poll ballots would answer yes to this question. So would the overall SEC standings, where the only other 2-4 team in the league just beat us by 27 points. Statistics also offer their support, where the Vols are:
- 11th in the SEC in rushing offense, ahead of only Ryan Mallett's team
- 7th in the SEC in passing offense, but that's still only good enough for 70th nationally
- 12th in the SEC in total offense, in a crazy world where undefeated LSU is 10th and Florida is 11th
- 12th in the SEC in scoring offense, despite dropping 50 on UT-Martin
- 10th in the SEC in rushing defense, ahead of only Kentucky and Vanderbilt
- 9th in the SEC in passing defense, 80th nationally
- 12th in the SEC in total defense, 78th nationally (feel better: the Trogans check in at 100)
- 10th in the SEC in scoring defense, also 78th nationally
The Vols are still more talented than the Vanderbilts and Mississippi States of the world, but we're deeper than no one, and as the weeks go on our talent gets more and more banged up. Even with an off week to heal, Alabama and South Carolina - arguably the two best teams on our schedule - are on the other side of it.
The dominant preseason projection for this team is alive and well with the Vols at 2-4, and the vast majority will expect it to continue on to 2-6 at the end of October. The Vols' talent should allow them to at least compete with Memphis, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, and Kentucky...but where will our depth be by then? Where will our effort be?
Dooley has already started making a move toward playing more young players - Justin Hunter's snaps increased dramatically (and rightfully so) at Georgia, while Rajion Neal has replaced David Oku as the #2 back. Jacques Smith and Corey Miller continue to play and play well, for freshmen, on the defensive line.
But will the Vols have enough of everything they need left for November? After Saturday's events in Athens and Columbia, I don't think any of us are expecting to win again until the calendar turns.
And I also still think it's just going to be hard for us to call a season "successful" if it doesn't end with a bowl game. Even if you give the Vols a win at 1-5 Memphis, the Vols haven't shown the necessary consistency yet to beat Ole Miss, Vandy, and Kentucky on consecutive weekends.
We'll cross that bridge when we get there...but right now, it may simply be factual that Tennessee is at the bottom of the conference. The only other real candidate is Vanderbilt, who beat Ole Miss by two touchdowns in Oxford. We don't have to stay here forever, and we may beat Vandy straight up...but we're understanding more and more each week how steep the climb is going to be, and how much work The Process has to do.