The star power hasn't yet returned, largely leaving a void on the all-conference teams.
The rebuilding process isn't complete, which will likely relegate the program to another projected finish in the bottom-half of the division.
And this year, Tennessee doesn't even have a new coach to introduce to steal away some headlines at SEC Media Days, which start Wednesday in Hoover, Ala.
The Vols are still more than capable of making some news and certainly proved a year ago that they can be competitive with the best teams in the league. So even if they aren't in the brightest spotlight this week, they will continue to generate interest — and these storylines figure to pop up the most when the discussion shifts away from NCAA scandals and limits on recruiting classes.
CAN THE VOLS CONTEND THIS YEAR?
Despite the public proclamation of last season being Year Zero for coach Derek Dooley, the Vols obviously aren't planning to go through the motions this fall.
Even a year ago with a roster that didn't look ready for a title, the Vols were able to show some fight and at least land a couple punches against some heavyweights — even sending LSU to the ropes before an unforgettable finish left them without a signature win on the resume.
UT generally wasn't able to keep up with the tougher teams on the schedule for a full 60 minutes last fall, but within its division, the East appears wide open this season behind prohibitive favorite South Carolina. Can Dooley again change his timetable?
WHAT'S THE DEAL WITH JANZEN JACKSON?
For months now, Dooley has fiercely protected the personal reasons for the withdrawal from school and the eventual return of his star safety this summer.
That doesn't figure to change in front of the 900-plus media members in Alabama, though it surely won't be for lack of effort by the attendees.
Jackson is perhaps the single most valuable player UT has on the roster this fall, so he was already going to be receiving some chatter. And now that he's back in the fold and on the ballot for the media's preseason All-SEC squad, that talk might be even louder.
WHO IS STEPPING FORWARD AMONG THE LEAGUE'S OFFENSIVE ELITE?
Coming off a 1,000-yard season, Tauren Poole would be a prime candidate to stand as UT's best hope to emerge as the best at his position in the conference.
Unfortunately for the senior running back, Poole is battling with arguably the deepest group of rushers anywhere in the nation — and making headway won't come easily.
That makes Tyler Bray the logical pick to make his name the best known around SEC circles, particularly given the relative lack of marquee quarterbacks this fall.
Georgia's Aaron Murray is expected to be the standard this season, but after that the door is wide open. If Bray can build on his dynamic debut as a freshman, he might be the guy with the first chance to close it behind him.