On the inside cover of the new Tennessee football media guide, there's a picture of former coach Phillip Fulmer holding up a Waterford Crystal football in celebration of his team's national championship. The caption congratulates the coach for being inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
It's appropriate to mention one of the most prominent members of the UT football family. And it was done strategically in that you have to strain to notice the date on the trophy.
The Vols aren't just honoring a former coach. They're reminding us they haven't always been last in the SEC East. There's nothing to be gained from reminding anyone that the championship was achieved 14 years ago, or before the 2012 recruiting class was ready for kindergarten.
The Vols took national prominence for granted then. Bowl games were a foregone conclusion. The top 25 was almost as certain.
Nothing is assured after three losing seasons in the last five years. That's why this season is so important.
Finally, the Vols have sufficient talent and depth to win meaningful games, qualify for a Jan. 1 bowl and finish in the top 25. But for the purpose of my third column on reasonable goals for the 2012 season, let's whittle that threesome down to "Think National."
While this team isn't capable of contending for a national championship, it could at least help repair the damage to the program's national image. If the Vols can meet that goal, the program could benefit far beyond this season.
UT's success is based, in part, on national recruiting, and you can't ignore how winning influences that. The more you win, the more readily your message is received in the far corners of the country. Conversely, when you're losing, your national appeal plummets, which might explain why the program's rebuilding efforts have been prolonged.
Coach Johnny Majors turned a once-dilapidated Pittsburgh program into a national power in only a few years. He needed eight years to field a top-25 team at Tennessee and 13 years to produce back-to-back top-25 teams.
In the worst of times, schools like Florida, Alabama, LSU and Georgia can rebound faster than other schools because of their in-state recruiting base. No matter how low they go, enough talented players will remain devoted to their in-state school.
The Vols don't have that safety net. So when they fall, they're apt to fall harder and stay down longer.
But once they can reestablish themselves on the national scene, their recruiting could be enhanced right away. They won't have to wait long to take a step in that direction.
In the 1990s, an opener against N.C. State would elicit a shrug. It provokes excitement now.
You would be hard-pressed to find a more appropriate opponent for a program seeking to regain its footing on the national landscape. The Wolfpack is good enough to present a challenge, yet not so good that a victory would require a perfect game.
The Vols haven't been in the top 25 since they lost to UCLA in the 2008 opener. Four difficult years later, another opener on national television could help the Vols reclaim a portion of all they have lost.