It's a nervous time of year for Tennessee football coaches.
Losing to Alabama is one thing. Losing to the team that comes after Alabama on the schedule can be even worse.
In 1992, Tennessee fired Johnny Majors following a loss to South Carolina.
In 2008, Phillip Fulmer was fired following a loss to South Carolina.
In 2005, offensive coordinator Randy Sanders fell on his sword and resigned after a loss to the Gamecocks.
What is it about South Carolina that plants the kiss of death on troubled UT coaches? It's not the opponent so much as the timing.
By the end of October, you've measured yourself against your rivals, Florida, Georgia and Alabama. If a season is going wrong, it's pretty well down the path by the time the Gamecocks show up. It's last call for redemption.
So it's 2012 and embattled coach Derek Dooley takes his team to South Carolina on Saturday as a 14-point underdog.
A 0-5 SEC start is staring UT in the face for the second consecutive year. The chorus of wolves howling at Dooley's door is growing by the week.
"Are people upset?'' Dooley said Monday. "Of course. They should be. I understand that.''
An upset win in Columbia would do wonders for the morale of Tennessee's team and coaches. It might even mute the howling.
But it's difficult to find a compelling reason why the Vols might pull that upset. So when Dooley gets back to Knoxville it's likely to be another difficult Sunday.
Sundays have been his toughest day of the week. Trying to figure out what went wrong, why the Saturday performance lacked the proficiency he saw on Tuesday or Wednesday in practice.
But he won't get fired.
At least I don't believe he will get fired.
I believe athletic director Dave Hart will let the season play out.
Dooley certainly doesn't have the credit in the bank that either Majors or Fulmer had acquired. Both had won SEC titles at UT, and Fulmer a national title. Both were alumni, Tennessee guys to the marrow.
However, both Majors and Fulmer were in their 16th seasons at Tennessee. It wasn't a question of whether they could rebuild a program.
In Majors' case, the heir apparent — offensive coordinator Fulmer — was already in the building.
In Sanders' case, the heir apparent — David Cutcliffe — was back home in Knoxville ready to go.
Their was no heir apparent in Fulmer's case and we've seen how that turned out. But that's another story.
Perhaps one reason Majors and Fulmer got the early hook was to get the deed done before they got the chance to regain support with projected November wins — Memphis in Majors' case, Wyoming in Fulmer's and reliable Vanderbilt and Kentucky.
That would only make it harder to fire a legend.
Dooley is no legend. But he inherited an awful mess. Because this is only his third season, I believe Hart will let the season run its course.
He might well pull the trigger after the Kentucky game. But pulling it after South Carolina sends a message to potential candidates — you might not even get three seasons to prove yourself.
Dooley has five games left in his third season. He should get all five.
"I'm not in a position to defend what we are doing,'' said Dooley, "to make a case for what we are doing.
"We have to go prove it on the field.''
Proving it on the field hasn't worked out so hot in the past, not against South Carolina, anyway.