You knew Tennessee was playing catch-up in the SEC when the 2009 football season began. And you knew it wasn't just chasing national championship contenders like Alabama and Florida.
LSU and Ole Miss were popular top-10 picks in preseason. Georgia was a consensus top-15 team.
As for the Vols, they were lumped together with much of the field - teams that could go up or down in the standings and might or might not go to a bowl.
That's how you are perceived after a 5-7 record and two losing seasons in four years. And that's why the last month has been so significant.
UT's outlook is far better than its 4-4 record, which includes four losses by a combined 20 points.
But it's not just about what's going on with UT. It's about what's happening elsewhere in the conference - specifically, at South Carolina and Georgia in the SEC East.
The Bulldogs have only one senior starter on offense. The Gamecocks started only three seniors on offense and defense combined against the Vols on Saturday night.
Contrast that with UT, which starts four senior offensive linemen, a senior running back and a senior quarterback. It also has seniors at both defensive tackle spots and linebacker.
But whose football future would you rather have - UT's, Georgia's or South Carolina's?
On the same weekend that UT was beating South Carolina 31-13, Georgia often looked overwhelmed against Florida.
More importantly, it looked overwhelmed against UT three weeks earlier.
No wonder, UT first-year coach Lane Kiffin is making the state of Georgia a recruiting target. The Bulldogs look lost.
South Carolina doesn't necessarily look lost. It just looks as it often has under coach Steve Spurrier.
He certainly has improved the program. But he hasn't removed the "Chicken Curse," which supposedly accounts for the program's epic streak of bad luck and mediocrity.
There was nothing spooky or mysterious about UT's victories over South Carolina or Georgia. And you couldn't say that it has more talent than either team. Yet it beat them by a combined margin of 44 points.
You think Georgia and South Carolina fans aren't concerned? If Kiffin and his staff can produce those kind of results in their first year, what can they accomplish with a full complement of their recruits?
Recruiting didn't have much to do with UT's victories over the Bulldogs and Gamecocks. The Vols simply played harder and smarter.
They also looked better coached.
It will take both outstanding coaching and recruiting to catch up with Florida. The Vols aren't ready for that yet.
But neither is Georgia nor South Carolina. And they had a head start.
As the Gators make their stretch run for back-to-back national championships, some view South Carolina at Columbia as their greatest challenge.
My guess: Florida would rather play South Carolina on the road than have a rematch with the Vols at home.
Sports editor John Adams may be reached at 865-342-6284 or email@example.com.