AP Top 25 College Football
Being an elite college football program comes with a certain amount of media bling.
One telltale sign of Tennessee's decline came in the last year or so the Vols were dropped from Big & Rich's "Coming to Your City,'' the popular, high-energy intro to ESPN's College GameDay show.
All of a sudden there was no more "give me that Rocky Top Tennessee.'' TCU, I believe, got plugged in to the Vols' old slot in the montage.
This week, with Florida headed to Neyland Stadium, the Vols are climbing back on the college football map.
They popped up in the Associated Press Top 25 for the first time since UCLA dumped them in the opening week of the 2008 season.
And ESPN's College GameDay is indeed coming to our city Saturday for the first time since 2004.
"They've earned the right to get some of the attention they've been getting by how they've performed the last couple of weeks,'' coach Derek Dooley said Monday. "That's good.''
The players who talked with the media Monday all said the right things. Yes, they're glad to get national exposure. But it's not Kirk Herbstreit who will be scrambling to convert a third down.
"College GameDay being here doesn't help us beat Florida,'' said defensive lineman Daniel Hood.
The show originated in 1993. This is its eighth appearance in Knoxville. Only four schools have played host more often.
But the Vols haven't been relevant since the 2007-08 season when they played in SEC Championship Game and won the Outback Bowl.
"We have to give 'em a reason to come,'' said UT center James Stone.
There is a combination of reasons this week.
Give the Vols credit. They've been a highlight machine in wins over North Carolina State and Georgia State.
Give Florida credit. The Gators dug deep to come back and win at Texas A&M — College GameDay's home last Saturday.
And give Arkansas credit. If the Razorbacks hadn't been stunned by Louisiana-Monroe, Lee Corso would be donning a mascot head in Fayetteville on Saturday before an Alabama-Arkansas showdown.
Arkansas' near-historic plummet out of the top 25 also cleared a slot for Tennessee's return.
From the late 1980s until the mid-2000s Tennessee was a fixture in the rankings. It was an assumption.
Well, here's another sign of the times:
"We're finally ranked,'' junior Jacques Smith said Monday. "It was one of my personal goals coming into college.''
I'm sure that has been the goal of many a Vanderbilt or Kentucky player. It sounds odd coming from a Vol.
"If,'' said Dooley, "you're focused on being in the top 25 and not on what you need to do to be in the Top 25, then you're not going to be in the top 25.''
Dooley is wary of what he calls the "external clutter" this week. He hopes his team is mature enough to stay focused on an opponent it hasn't beaten since 2004, back in the days when College GameDay and the top 25 were standard perks.
"The best exposure you can get is to win,'' Dooley said.
"If you have GameDay out there and lay an egg, all that goes out the window.''