Derek Dooley reviews the Vols' 51-48 loss to Missouri
Dooley talks defensive strategy
Derek Dooley addresses questions about his job
There is only speculation swirling at every turn. Vol fans seem to care about nothing besides who is going to replace Dooley.
But there is also this, and it's 100 percent confirmed:
The Vols play a football game Saturday night in Nashville against a rival that desperately wants to beat them, and the bigger the margin the better.
And Vanderbilt, for once, appears to be capable of doing it.
In this corner, the Commodores, fresh off the program's biggest rally — 17 points down — in 13 years to win 27-26 at Ole Miss. Vandy is 6-4, 4-3 in the SEC and bowl eligible.
And in this corner, Tennessee, fresh off blowing a 14-point lead at home to lose in four overtimes to Missouri and fall to 0-6 in SEC play for the second consecutive year.
Just to stir the pot this week, there is last year's 27-21 UT overtime win in Knoxville, after which a video of the Vols' postgame celebration made it onto the Internet.
The highlight is Dooley reminding his team that the "one thing Tennessee always does is kick the (deleted) out of Vanderbilt.''
Since that night, Tennessee hasn't kicked anything out of anybody who matters. Vandy is a four-point favorite Saturday and it's unlikely the stadium will be heavily tinted orange as in the past.
"They're coming into this game thinking they're gonna beat us,'' UT senior Prentiss Waggner said Monday. "And they've got all the right to. They've been playing great football.''
The assumption is Dooley is a goner, although athletic director Dave Hart is about as talkative as The Sphinx.
Despite the grim reaper lurking in the shadows, Dooley and his staff have to keep their team focused on being prepared to take Vandy's best shot. They can leave the distractions to the media and the fan base.
As unpleasant as coming up short against SEC powers Georgia, Florida and the rest has been, as
gut-wrenching as watching Missouri steal a win last Saturday was, wouldn't losing to Vanderbilt be, to quote the Bard, the most unkindest cut of all?
UT and Vandy share geography. They recruit some of the same in-state players, especially so in recent years as the playing field has leveled.
Tennessee fans look down their orange noses on the Commodores, which is only natural given the one-sided history of the series. Thus, watching Vandy celebrate Saturday night would be adding insult to the considerable injury UT has already suffered.
Then there's a convenient rebuilding comparison on which to reflect.
For whatever good work Dooley has accomplished in a hard situation, the bottom line reflects only frustration.
Contrast that to what feisty James Franklin has done to Vandy's bottom line in only two seasons.
The Commodores are 12-11 on his watch, 6-9 SEC. After going to two bowls in the 36 years before he got there, bowl-eligible Vandy is 2-for-2 under Franklin. Beating UT would mean the program's first five-win SEC season since 1935.
"He's done a nice job of bringing some really good energy to the program,'' Dooley said Monday. "They're playing with a lot of confidence.''
Considering what's going on in their world, you have to wonder about the Vols' energy and confidence this week.