Tennessee Stat Book
Game preview: Tennessee vs. Florida
Know your Vols: Media Day smacktalk
Tennessee reported back to work and every player was handed a pen.
The Vols weren't taking a test on Sunday when they rolled into the weight room just hours after posting a dominant non-conference win. They all knew one was coming at the end of the week anyway, one that would really establish what kind of grade they might post on the field this fall.
There were no right or wrong answers, and UT wasn't necessarily hoping for a theme to develop in the responses.
All it wanted to know was what the next game meant to the Vols. And while they've each tried all week to prepare as if it's just another of many to them, the wall in the weight room helped make clear that a trip to No. 16 Florida on Saturday (TV: WVLT, 3:30 p.m.) matters a little more.
"Everybody was writing different stuff," senior linebacker Austin Johnson said. "What it meant to them, how every drop of sweat in the weight room would be poured in for that game, and I think that's great.
"It kind of creates some hype."
The Vols (2-0) have been able to largely manage those emotions during a business-like approach to practice as they prepared for the start of conference play, but there's also been a realization of what could be on the line against their divisional foe.
That showed up on the mirror as well, with one defensive lineman writing about the chance to play for an SEC Championship.
Another veteran who grew up cheering for the Vols pointed out the current six-game losing streak to the Gators (2-0) as a motivating factor.
Johnson indicated he jotted down the core principles of the program under Dooley, stressing the need for discipline, effort and toughness against a team he's never been able to beat in his career.
And while each individual might have had something different on their mind, that certainly doesn't mean the Vols weren't all sharing a common goal. A win on the road, against a ranked opponent and a rival at that, could put UT back on the national radar after spending the last few years outside of contention for any titles.
The trick is dialing up a big-time performance and creating a buzz without putting too much extra pressure on the team, a balancing act that can get difficult when the stakes start to go up.
"I think a mature team can recognize the difference," Vols coach Derek Dooley said. "It doesn't mean you don't play as well as you're capable of in the other games, but certainly it's an important game. If you're ever going to be a championship contender, you've got to be able to go down and beat your East rivals. That's just the way it is.
"I think there's a recognition of that, but I'm always cautious to say it's so much more important than any other game. But it is, it's a little elevated from the standpoint that this is a team that has dominated the SEC in the 2000s, it's an East team that we haven't played well against the last six times. So, you know, I hope we can elevate our game."
The inability to do so against the Gators has been well documented lately, and UT will also have to take its game to another level after two relatively easy victories to open the season.
The Vols were largely aware of that fact on their own, turning their attention to Florida and what has widely been termed "big-boy ball" as soon as the victory over Cincinnati last week was clinched. But just in case, they were given a chance to illustrate the difference themselves in writing.
"You're not trying to create gimmicks," Dooley said. "But every week as a head coach you're trying to figure out, 'How are we going to get our guys psychologically ready to play?'
"We do stuff every week, not gimmicky and that kind of stuff, but there are a lot of different things you can do to try to motivate and focus guys to go out there and play well. It's hard, it's probably the hardest thing to do as a coach is get a team to play their best for 12 games."
For now, the Vols are only focused on doing it once.