KNOXVILLE — Win or lose Saturday, Tennessee's football season figures to be inexorably changed by its result against top-ranked Alabama.
Win against the Crimson Tide for the first time in six years and the Vols should finish no worse than 8-4, and that's assuming they lose next week at South Carolina, which could have its own self-esteem issues by then.
Lose, however, and 2012 officially becomes a Big Orange Bust. It would likely post an 0-3 record in October — which would mean an 0-5 start in Southeastern Conference play for a third straight season under head coach Derek Dooley — and fortify a very realistic concern that this team could mail it in the rest of the way.
Lose badly to Bama and it's certainly easy to see the November game at Vanderbilt becoming the difference between the Vols going 7-5 or 6-6.
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