This has aptly been described as the Year of the Running Back in the SEC. But it's also the year of the running question.
Tennessee can relate to both.
Tauren Poole was good enough and durable enough to rush for more than 1,000 yards behind a line comprised mainly of freshmen and sophomores last year. Yet he's backed up by young backs who don't have 200 career yards rushing among them.
As important as the development of young linebackers might be for this team, it's almost as crucial that either sophomore Raijon Neal dramatically raises his play from his freshman season or that one of two new freshmen, Marlin Lane or Tom Smith, has an immediate impact.
"If you don't have a deep stable of running backs, you're going to have a guy get beat up, unless he's some special guy," UT coach Derek Dooley said after Saturday's scrimmage. "There's not many Herschel Walkers out there."
Dooley likes what he has seen of the two freshmen so far. But "so far" doesn't include an SEC season.
The Vols aren't alone in their uncertainty at running back. For every SEC team that is seemingly set at the position, there's another with a question.
South Carolina, Auburn, Alabama, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt all have established starters and proven backups. No problems there for now.
Florida has two experienced running backs in Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey. The Gators still have a question, though. Demps and Rainey have done their running in the spread offense of former coach Urban Meyer. You can't be sure how they will fare in the more conventional running game employed by new coach Will Muschamp.
LSU has depth and great potential at the position, especially given Spencer Ware's running in the Cotton Bowl. But it doesn't have a proven lead running back who has made it through an entire SEC season. Neither does Arkansas after losing Knile Davis to a broken ankle in preseason.
Georgia is counting on a promising freshman, Isaiah Crowell, to bolster a depleted position. Kentucky's leading returning rusher is Raymond Sanders, who had 254 yards last season, and there's not a recognizable name behind him.
The significance of depth at the position has been confirmed by UT's preseason in which it can't seem to scrimmage with a full complement of healthy running backs.
"I really felt good where (Smith and Lane) were after the second scrimmage," Dooley said. "Then Tom got hurt."
Neal has been hurt, too. While that qualifies as an inconvenience in preseason, it becomes game-altering in the regular season, particularly when you consider UT's October schedule — Georgia, LSU, Alabama and South Carolina in succession without an open date in between.
You will need at least two running backs for that. And you might need three. One of them will have to be a freshman.
"The trouble with Marlin and all the freshmen now is they're heavy-legged from camp," Dooley said. "This is the hardest thing they've been through."
October won't be any easier.