So just how bad is Tennessee football?
Any predictions for the 2010 season? Six wins? Five? Four? Everyone is searching for the right answer.
The speculation alone is enough reason to take inventory.
Records are one thing. The Vols have had two losing seasons since 2005, a far cry from the heyday in the 1990s when just a 10-win season seemed like a low point. Seemingly, championships were at stake every year.
UT's two most recent losing seasons didn't even carry the same negative prologue of this season.
While it may be hard to recall, the Vols were actually supposed to be pretty good when they posted losing seasons in 2005 and 2008. So just how did it all slide so far?
Sure, two coaching changes in 14 months set the table for disaster, but there's also the missed recruiting evaluations by one coach and promises made to high-profile prospects by another that could give first-year UT coach Derek Dooley one headache after another this fall.
Recruiting - or lack thereof - is a big reason why UT's talent is lacking. In retrospect, national rankings predicted some of the downfall.
In two of former coach Phillip Fulmer's last three seasons, he couldn't manage to secure a class in the top 20, a feat that was once a given for UT's second-most successful coach of all time.
Fulmer's 2006 class, which could still be contributing now via red-shirted players, ranked 24th and 23rd by Scout.com and Rivals.com, respectively. The 2008 class, which had limited scholarships available, ranked 35th by both recruiting services.
But wait, it gets worse.
Two of Fulmer's most highly rated final classes were shaken by departures. Five players from the 2006 class left the program, didn't qualify academically or were dismissed. Four have been lost from the 2008 class. From those two classes, UT lost four offensive linemen, a glaring weakness for 2010.
UT's 2007 class is another matter entirely. It was highly ranked, but has since been one of the most disappointing signing classes in recent memory.
The 32-member class was ranked fourth and third in the nation by Scout and Rivals, respectively.
However, 17 of those signees didn't complete their eligibility. They either never made it to campus because of academic issues, were dismissed after they arrived or left the program.
Fulmer can't be blamed for all of the recruiting misfires. Former coach Lane Kiffin's recruiting approach may have cost the Vols a trio of ballyhooed prospects.
Tailback Bryce Brown is expected to leave UT after one season. Sure, he was disenchanted by the coaching change. But despite his prominent role last season, there are some in UT's football department who believe he is disappointed that he didn't play even more in 2009.
Kiffin's talent-first approach may also have caused UT's former staff to overlook character issues with two highly touted players.
The Vols were forced to dismiss receiver Nu'Keese Richardson and defensive back Mike Edwards after the two were charged with attempted robbery.
Then there's the attrition that one would expect from two coaching changes in little more than a year.
All that has resulted in 30 UT signees failing to complete their eligibility.
Then, there are 19 one-time UT commitments who went elsewhere after a coaching change was announced.
A dozen left in the Fulmer-Kiffin transition. Another seven left in the Kiffin-Dooley transition.
Those lost were replaced, but at what cost to UT's talent remains to be seen.
Recruiting one's needs during a coaching transition is virtually impossible.
Dooley can only do so much to rebuild UT's roster. The NCAA allows 25 scholarship players to be added in a calendar year.
That means Dooley will have approximately 75 scholarship players this season, 10 fewer than is allowed by the NCAA.
Dooley has said he won't try to temper fan expectations despite playing this season (and maybe the next two) shorthanded.
Yet a study of UT's roster should do the trick.
First, UT's senior class has some longtime contributors, but few standout players. The Vols have 13 seniors who have started a game, led by two potential All-SEC players: tight end Luke Stocker and defensive end Chris Walker - if he's healthy.
UT's seniors boast competent receivers (Gerald Jones and Denarius Moore), solid linebackers (Nick Reveiz and LaMarcus Thompson) and starting defensive ends (Walker, Ben Martin and Gerald Williams).
But after the seniors, the roster gets scary.
UT only has one junior who has started a game at his current position: cornerback Art Evans.
The Vols' sophomores had better be ready to contribute this season and beyond. There is reason to think they can with a handful of promising players, led by safety Janzen Jackson and defensive tackle Montori Hughes.
However, Jackson is the only UT sophomore who has started a game without an injury clearing the way.
Some longtime SEC assistant coaches, who asked not to be identified, offered some insight into UT's most prominent weaknesses.
First, quarterback, where junior college transfer Matt Simms and freshman Tyler Bray are trying to replace starter Jonathan Crompton.
"If you don't have a trigger man, good luck to you," one assistant said.
Then, there's a defensive line that will depend on Hughes to become a dominant player. Otherwise, there doesn't appear to be a difference maker on the roster.
"You look at the defensive line. You have to have it in the trenches and they're down there," the assistant said.
UT's offensive line also is a well-documented issue. The Vols were forced to play two walk-ons and a freshman last season.
"The offensive line was horrible," was the observation.
And that was last year's line. In 2010, the Vols must replace five departed starters that kept this year's projected starters on the bench.
Whether or not Dooley can build a championship contender or is in over his head is up for debate.
Dooley's goal is clear: to build a tough, character-driven program, much like Alabama.
"He understands the SEC," one assistant coach said. "He understands you have to have talent, but he also understands you have to run the football and stop the run."
That may be the toughest thing for Dooley to accomplish initially. The Vols aren't deep on talent on the defensive line and are even thinner up front on offense.
Some have wondered if Dooley should lean more on junior college players. He signed four in February. One, defensive tackle John Brown, could help UT in the trenches in 2010.
Yet, junior college players aren't Dooley's style. He admits his track record hasn't been very good with junior college players, who often have a less-than-perfect past.
Dooley estimated he's only averaged one success in four junior college players he's signed as an assistant at LSU and coach at Louisiana Tech.
"That doesn't mean we're not going to (recruit them)," Dooley said. "I'm not really here to build a class on junior college players but there is a need for them and there are places where they can help you.
"But the success rate is not as great as you'd like it to be. You have to do a lot of diligence to make sure it's an area of need. They've got to be able to come in and make an immediate impact and it's the right kind of guy that will fit into your culture."
The culture that Dooley is trying to build is character driven. That has been well received by those who grew weary of Kiffin's behavior.
But what will fans and boosters think of better character if the Vols are 2-6 in November - a real possibility given UT's challenging schedule?
Maybe more importantly, what will prospects think?
The two SEC assistants interviewed agreed that UT is - at best - the sixth most talented team in the league.
So just how long until UT can acquire enough talent to compete for SEC championships?
"You're looking at three years," one coach said, "at the minimum."