Let's back up for a few paragraphs.
Let's back up to Sept. 17 of last year. That's when Tennessee lost star wide receiver Justin Hunter to a knee injury in the first quarter against Florida.
That's also when the course of the season changed drastically for the worse from a UT perspective.
The statute of limitations has long since expired on excuses. And excuses are best dismissed anyway, particularly when you conduct your football business in the SEC, where everyone loses players to injury. How well you replace them often determines your success or failure in this league.
But you couldn't help but notice how different UT's offense looked last Friday night in a 35-21 victory over North Carolina State when it had two big-play threats at wide receiver in Hunter and junior college transfer Cordarrelle Patterson.
Offensive playmakers are a big deal anywhere.
They're a bigger deal in the SEC, because the defenses are so unyielding.
So I was looking for playmakers the first week of the college season, which included a challenging stretch of games from noon Saturday to 2 a.m. Sunday during which I suffered a right-thumb sprain while overworking my remote switch. My conclusion: UT might have more playmakers than any one else in the SEC East south of Missouri (the only team in the division I didn't see).
No one else in the conference threw the ball better than UT quarterback Tyler Bray did against the Wolfpack. And it's questionable whether anyone else outside of Southern California can match the pitch-and-catch combination of Bray to Hunter and Patterson.
South Carolina could use either one of them, as evidenced by its 17-13 victory over Vanderbilt last Thursday. In fact, it could have used Vanderbilt wide receiver Jordan Matthews, who had eight catches for 147 yards. South Carolina wide receivers had a grand total of three catches.
I'm already questioning my pick of the Gamecocks to win the East. They're too reliant on the running of quarterback Connor Shaw, who couldn't get through the first game without bruising his throwing shoulder. And there's no semblance of an adequate backup behind him.
Tennessee wins over NC State in the Chic-Fil-A kickoff game
Running back Marcus Lattimore rushed for more than 100 yards and looked as good as he did last year when his season was cut short by a knee injury. But he didn't consistently break tackles as he did as a freshman in 2010.
The running back headliner in the East had an Athens, Ga., dateline. Freshman Todd Gurley rushed for 100 yards on eight carries and returned a kickoff for one of his three touchdowns. He's just what Georgia needed after dismissing Isaiah Crowell from the team in preseason. Crowell led the Bulldogs in rushing last season as a freshman but never turned heads the way Gurley did in a 45-23 victory over Buffalo.
Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray also was on his game in the season opener. He had three touchdown passes and no interceptions, the latter of which too often sullied his 2011 performances.
Murray doesn't have Bray's receivers, though. Tavarres King, who had six catches for 117 yards, has speed and experience but still drops too many passes.
Florida could live with a few drops if its receivers could get open. The Gators established their running game and little else in a 27-14 victory over Bowling Green.
Senior Mike Gillislee ran hard and showed more speed than expected in rushing for 148 yards. But other than Kentucky, whom else can Florida beat in the East without a more productive passing game?
The Gators just don't have enough playmakers. And based on the first weekend, Georgia and South Carolina — the two highest ranked teams in the East — don't have as many as the Vols.