Derek Dooley talks about getting a better pass rush
Every week, the rankings come out, and Tennessee is reminded of what it's up against.
The SEC always has been a great conference for football. But now, after six consecutive national titles, it's threatening to lap the field.
Alabama is No. 1, and three other SEC teams are ranked ninth or better in The Associated Press top 25. Seven SEC teams are ranked 22nd or higher.
No wonder the Vols are having so much trouble making headway in their quest for football respectability.
It was so much different in the 1990s, but not just because the Vols had so many pro prospects. Consider the competition.
From 1995 through 1998, only Florida was comparable to UT in SEC stature. The Vols won 45 of 50 games during that four-year stretch, which also included a national championship and two SEC titles.
But look what was going on elsewhere in the SEC East, and at Alabama, UT's standing rival from the West. Then, contrast that with the current state of affairs.
Georgia was 30-17 in those four seasons during which coach Ray Goff was fired and Jim Donnan was hired. Now, it's 12 years into the Mark Richt era. All he has done is win 114 of 153 games.
From 1995 through 1998, South Carolina was 16-27-1 under coach Brad Scott, who wasn't asked back for the 1999 season. The Gamecocks haven't had a losing season since Steve Spurrier took over in 2005.
Even Vanderbilt has made an upgrade. From 1995 through 1999, it was 9-35 under coach Woody Widenhofer. Now, second-year coach James Franklin is on the verge of back-to-back bowl seasons.
Kentucky was 20-25 from 1995 through 1998 under Bill Curry. It's even worse now under Joker Phillips, who was fired Sunday. But in the four previous seasons, Kentucky was 25-26, and that's better than the Vols (23-27).
Alabama was 29-18 from 1995 through 1998. It also was 0-4 against the Vols.
Now, the Tide is making a strong run at a third national championship in four seasons under coach Nick Saban.
As good as the Vols were from 1995 through 1998, they were competing against a much weaker field. To their credit, they capitalized on it — both on the field and in recruiting.
In today's more competitive marketplace, it's drastically more difficult for UT to compete for the top recruits in South Carolina and Georgia, much less against Alabama. That's evident from the top 25.
It's also apparent in the most recent ranking of recruiting. ESPN lists nine SEC schools in its top 25.
The Vols aren't ranked there, either.