The coaches' preseason poll came and went with little fanfare locally. How's that for a sign of the times?
Past polls have fostered exhilaration or indignation for followers of Tennessee football. At the very least, they sparked debate.
Now, they barely evoke a healthy shrug.
Don't get the wrong idea. The Vols weren't shut out in the USA Today Top 25 poll, which was released Thursday. You could find them listed among "others receiving votes" if you read deeply enough. They had all of three points.
Florida International University had three points, too. It was founded in 1965 and started playing Division I-A football way back in 2002.
Louisiana Tech, which coach Derek Dooley left for Tennessee, had more points than the Vols (10). So did Houston (7) and Southern Mississippi (6) of Conference USA. So did N.C. State (11), UT's first opponent. So did four Florida schools.
Nine SEC schools had more points and Missouri had the same amount of points. Southern California, coached by You Know Who, had 1,385 more points.
The consensus UT reaction to the poll could be summed up with: "What did you expect?"
"We were 5-7 last year," defensive lineman Daniel Hood said after Friday's first preseason practice. "We lost to Kentucky, and we almost lost to Vanderbilt. So I don't think any coach had a reason to put us in there."
He was so convincing that I wanted to retrieve my preseason Associated Press ballot, which listed the Vols at No. 18. Dooley didn't make me feel any better.
"It has been four years since we've been in the top 25," he said. "Why would we get a vote? We've got to go out and prove it."
The players don't stray from that theme. There's no sense of entitlement at a program once regarded as a top-25 regular. The Vols are way past that.
They know where they stand — right alongside Florida International. They know they can't lobby their way into the top 25 or the SEC race. They know the skepticism surrounding the program is founded in facts.
And even as they speak of offseason progress, they realize doubters can't be swayed with words. All the talk you have heard this offseason about UT's improved team chemistry, leadership and work ethic is just that: talk. Think how many teams have delivered the same offseason message before embarking on a disastrous regular season.
It's not just what the Tennessee players say, but how they say it, There's a sense of conviction.
"We'll be better," starting tackle Antonio Richardson said on behalf of his offensive line Thursday. He could have left it at that but didn't.
"I promise," he added.
Keeping that promise will be a daily challenge, beginning with the first practice. Dooley offered an Olympic anecdote for emphasis.
"When Bob Costas asked (swimmer Michael Phelps) what happened (following the narrowest of defeats in the 200 butterfly), he said, 'I wasn't finishing when I was training and it caught up to me today,' " Dooley said. "If you don't train the right way, when it gets to crunch time you're not going to be able to finish it off."
The Vols shouldn't have to hear that from their coach. Last season's finish, replete with second-half collapses, is still very much with them. And each practice is an opportunity to distance themselves from all that went wrong.
Hood was sweating profusely after Friday's practice. He missed spring ball with a shoulder injury and admittedly wasn't pleased with his stamina. So, after practice, he did extra conditioning work, which included 5-, 10- and 15-yard sprints.
Short runs like that might go a long way for a team that didn't need a top-25 poll to realize it's playing catchup.