Tennessee Stat Book
College football is on the edge of its seat. There's a big one Saturday night.
It's not at Neyland Stadium.
While Tennessee does the homecoming thing with Middle Tennessee State, the nation's eyes will be focused on Tuscaloosa, where No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama stage what amounts to a preliminary round of the national championship.
It's as big a game as regular-season football can produce. And while it plays out, the Vols will be struggling far from the spotlight, just trying to win a football game for the first time in a month.
Just trying to score a touchdown, even.
I asked offensive coordinator Jim Chaney on Wednesday if he'd ever gone consecutive games without a touchdown.
He couldn't name names, but allowed it's probably happened.
"This is not the first time I've been deemed a bad coach,'' Chaney added with a chuckle.
It's been 10 quarters since the Vols crossed a goal line. By my research, UT hadn't gone without a touchdown in consecutive games since the 1959 season petered out with shutouts against Kentucky and Vanderbilt.
"It's frustrating,'' Chaney said. "As coaches we take it as hard as anybody does.
"We understand how the fans and everybody feels, and how our team feels.''
Not to kick a program when it's down, but those frustrated fans yearn for not only a touchdown but for the days when Tennessee plays in the big one again.
They occurred with regularity through the 1990s.
There were seven games in the decade in which both the Vols and their opponent were top-five teams. There were 10 others in which both
teams were in the top 10.
When No. 1 Notre Dame came to town in 1990, there weren't enough hotel rooms in town for the national media. It was the same in 1996 with Florida.
UT's most recent top-five showdown was when the No. 5 Vols shocked No. 2 Florida on Dec. 1, 2001.
The last time the Vols were involved in a battle of top-10 teams was against Georgia in 2005. Tennessee's last appearance as a top-10 team was in a 2006 loss to LSU.
There hasn't even been a game in which both UT and its opponent were ranked since the Vols (No. 16) beat Wisconsin (No. 18) in the Outback Bowl to end the 2007 season.
For now, just beating MTSU would be a relief. Then the goal can turn to winning an SEC game for the first time this season.
The Vols are 0-5 in the nation's bloodiest conference. Any league that has produced five consecutive national champions and is likely to add a sixth is no place for the walking wounded.
Anyone looking for an edge on Alabama-LSU wouldn't find much separation using Tennessee as a barometer. The Vols lost 38-7 to LSU and 37-6 to Alabama in consecutive weeks.
UT defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox didn't want to pick a winner.
"They could probably both go in the AFC West or something,'' he said. "Man, they're both very skilled.''
Chaney rates both the Alabama and LSU defenses with the best he has ever faced. But it's not the skill or the speed or the size that he admires most.
"The one common factor in both those teams,'' he said, "is they walk on the field every Saturday expecting to win.
"You say that about a lot of teams, but they really deep in their heart and their soul believe that.
"They both really believe they're going to kick your butt.''
As for Tennessee, the first step to getting that swagger back is just believing it can score a touchdown.