DESTIN, Fla. - You can look at Tennessee's 2009 football schedule and readily see the degree of difficulty in trips to Gainesville, Fla., and Tuscaloosa, Ala. By comparison, a trip to Oxford, Miss., is hardly as ominous.
Why would it be? Ole Miss is Kentucky West to UT.
The Vols haven't lost to the Rebels since 1983 and have won 12 consecutive games in the series. Remember how bad the Vols were in 2005? They were still good enough to beat Ole Miss.
Why, that goofy looking Commodore mascot is scarier to UT fans than Colonel Reb. Mississippi State has been a greater threat. So has Memphis.
That's not just based on history. That's based on recent history.
And that history is hard to shake. It tells us that UT beats Ole Miss anywhere - in Knoxville or Memphis or Oxford.
The preseason football publications that are beginning to hit the newsstands tell us something else. They tell us that Ole Miss is a top-10 program and UT isn't. They tell us that Ole Miss has a big-time quarterback and UT has a big-time dilemma at quarterback. They tell us that Ole Miss is better in every offensive area - quarterback, running back, receivers and offensive line.
They also tell us that a trip to Oxford might not be any more pleasant for UT fans than a trip to Gainesville or Tuscaloosa.
You probably don't buy it, and I don't blame you. There's just too much history, right?
On the other hand, I wouldn't advise any elaborate victory-celebration plans on Beale Street for the second Saturday in November.
Never mind all the excitement engendered by new UT coach Lane Kiffin and his heralded staff. Or the 11th-hour recruiting surge that gave the Vols a top-10 class. UT's talent isn't what it used to be. Neither is Ole Miss'.
And Rebels fans have responded accordingly.
"There's a lot of hype right now," Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt said this week at the SEC spring meetings. "Every Rebel club we go to, there's a lot of enthusiasm, big anticipation and a lot of expectations.
"All that's good. But bottom line: It all comes back to players, coaches and everybody doing their part."
Nutt has long been regarded as a better coach in an underdog role. You saw that at Arkansas when his 1998 team almost upset UT's national champions, and his 1999 team did upset UT's defending national champions.
Conversely, some of his higher-rated Arkansas teams foundered. So it's fair to question how Nutt and the Rebels, who have never played in the SEC championship game, will fare amidst all the expectations.
"It goes back to work ethic and how we handle (the expectations)," Nutt said. "We're in uncharted waters."
If you are tackling the unknown, better to do it with a sure thing at quarterback. Jevan Snead is the best quarterback Nutt has ever had.
UT fans can thank one of their own for that.
Snead, who signed with Texas out of high school, transferred to Ole Miss when Ed Orgeron was the coach. Orgeron, who is now the recruiting coordinator and defensive line coach at UT, also recruited the Rebels' talented front four.
Even if Orgeron's recruiting efforts at Ole Miss turn the UT-Ole Miss series topsy-turvy in November, there would be consolation for Vols fans: If he could help build that kind of team at Ole Miss, imagine what he could do at UT.
UT fans can think about that on their drive back from Oxford.
Sports editor John Adams may be reached at 865-342-6284 or email@example.com.