The great debate is often six and eight. You can hear it almost any day on sports-talk shows in Knoxville.
Occasionally, some Tennessee fan will split the difference and predict a 7-5 regular season for the Vols. You can hear from extremists, too. Wild-eyed optimists will predict nine victories. Purveyors of gloom will predict five.
And sometimes between now and UT's opening kickoff, at least one lost soul will predict the Vols to win the SEC championship. Why? Because he has "a feeling."
A similar debate is being waged elsewhere in this corner of the country, where college football has long reigned supreme. It's as predictable as the rising temperatures. It's also a reminder of football's three seasons.
There's the regular season and spring football. There's fantasy football in the summer. It's often the most pleasant of the three.
So what if others refute your prediction with a preponderance of logic. They can refute it but they can't disprove it. Only games can do that.
If you aren't swayed by your rooting interest, UT's upcoming season seems as predictable as its last, which ended 6-6 before a bowl loss dropped the Vols below .500.
Look at the SEC schedule, which includes the three best teams from the West, and the depth chart, which has nowhere near the star power of the better teams in the league. The lack of talent and depth on defense is particularly glaring in a conference renowned for throttling offenses.
But history provides a counterpoint to such predictability. Even in a conference as demanding as this one, surprising success occurs often enough to spike preseason optimism.
Auburn is the most recent example. It went from 8-5 in 2009 and predictions for more of the same to 14-0 and a national championship in 2010.
The Tigers have had a greater transformation than that. After back-to-back season of 5-6 and 5-5-1 in 1991 and 1992, Auburn coach Pat Dye was replaced by Terry Bowden. A year later, Bowden took basically the same players who couldn't win more than they lost under Dye and went 11-0.
Such unexpected success is most often traced to a coaching change or the emergence of an outstanding quarterback or running back. Less often, you see teams develop a certain chemistry that enables them to defy preseason odds and raise their play above their supposed level of talent .
UT hasn't had a coaching change - for a change. Sophomore quarterback Tyler Bray showed promise in the last third of the season and running back Tauren Poole, coming off a solid season, should be more productive behind an experienced offensive line. But if the Vols are to win more than six games, their improvement likely will be a collective effort, rather than star-driven.
Team chemistry is harder to identify than talent. It's something that must be seen, rather than heard. After all, what team doesn't profess great camaraderie in preseason?
There's reason to believe this team will at least be motivated. Football is a tough enough game when you are winning. The fourth-year seniors on this team already have lost 20 games, have never won more than seven games in a season, have yet to win a bowl game and haven't beaten Florida or Alabama.
The Vols need more than motivation. They need the confidence that comes from a significant victory, which they haven't achieved since they donned those scandalous black jerseys and defeated nationally ranked South Carolina 31-13 in 2009. And the sooner, the better.
That's why the Sept. 17 game with Florida might be the most important of the season. It's a game the Vols are capable of winning. If they do, they might gain enough confidence to pull off another upset.
And the fans on the high side of the six-eight debate might be right.