Tennessee Stat Book
Tennessee's football team is two victories away from an SEC East Division championship. It's three victories away from one of the greatest turnarounds in school history.
What if UT won the SEC championship?
Sure, I feel a little silly asking the question. As ineptly as this team has performed in so many games, it seemingly would be overmatched against what could be a No. 1-ranked LSU team in the conference championship game.
But almost anything can happen in one game, particularly this season. Appalachian State over Michigan is one example. Stanford over Southern Cal is an even better example.
The SEC landscape also has been littered with upsets. Why would one more be so farfetched?
I realize it's premature to consider an LSU-UT game. However, it's not too early to take a different look at this UT team.
That's why I raise the possibility of a conference championship. Rarely has a UT team faced such a wide range of possibilities with two games remaining in the regular season.
It could be the first UT team since 1998 to win the SEC championship. Or it could be the first UT team since 1964 to lose to both Vanderbilt and Kentucky.
Something in between is more likely. But the way this season has gone, you shouldn't discount the most extreme options. After all, this has been Team Extreme.
It lost to Florida by 39 points and beat Georgia by 21. It lost to Alabama by 24 points and beat Arkansas by 21. It blew a 21-point lead to South Carolina, then rallied to win in overtime.
Despite all the ups and down, the perception of the team hasn't changed as much as the team's outlook. When you lose to your two biggest rivals by a combined score of 100-37, you don't change your image with a three-game winning streak.
But imagine what three more victories would do for the Vols.
Instead of being remembered as the clowns who gave up 100 points to Florida and Alabama combined, they would be remembered as SEC champions. They also would be remembered as classic overachievers.
And imagine what a conference championship would do for UT coach Phillip Fulmer. The coach on the hot seat could become the coach of the year in the SEC.
He wouldn't just keep his job. He would get a raise.
His former players might even take out another full-page ad (hint, hint) in the News Sentinel. They could deliver their message in four words of large, bold type: "We told you so."
The rest of UT's fans could make a statement, too.
The fan base is divided at this point. Some are ready for a coaching change. Others remain devoted to Fulmer, UT's coach for the last 15 years.
You're apt to see more unity down the stretch. Regardless of how fans feel about the future of the program, they won't ignore the present.
The Vols beat a hot Arkansas team 34-13 on Saturday. They have won three consecutive games and four of their last five SEC games.
There's still a risk in investing emotion in this team. Neither Vanderbilt nor Kentucky is a sure thing, and you can imagine the challenge LSU would present in a conference championship game. But the majority of fans are probably ready to take that risk.
Although they don't know where Team Extreme is headed, the ride has become more appealing.
Sports editor John Adams may be reached at 865-342-6284 or firstname.lastname@example.org.