AP Top 25 College Football
What a week. Even the bears nudging over garbage cans in Gatlinburg can feel the energy.
I haven't picked up on such a confident vibe that Tennessee can beat Florida since ... since last year.
I'm not the only one who remembers.
"Last year at this time we were 2-0 and we were feeling good,'' Derek Dooley observed this week.
"We were chucking the ball around the park, thought we were pretty good and went down there and got our tails whipped.''
Here's the CliffsNotes recap:
The Vols opened 2011 with easy wins over Montana and Cincinnati. A hungry fan base viewed a trip to Florida as a coming-out party. A fair portion of the local media jumped on the bandwagon.
Florida 33, Tennessee 23. And it wasn't really that close.
After which, Dooley offered an interesting take on his rebuilding project, then 16 games old:
"I told the team, if you're going to compete for championships, you're going to have to get scars.
"We didn't have any. We got plenty of 'em today and it's good.''
There would be other scars to come in 2011. Oh, brother, even in Lexington.
But enough of Professor Downer's history lesson. Back to the moment.
An important opportunity awaits Saturday night at Neyland Stadium.
Once again, UT is 2-0. Once again, confidence gushes through the airwaves and cyber conversations.
This time, it's not misguided.
Well, the over-the-top the smack talk is misguided. Tennessee isn't "10 times as talented" as Florida, as one talk-show caller estimated. I promise you, figuring out how to hold the score down is not on Dooley's game plan, as some have suggested.
Still, this is a better Tennessee team than the one that went to The Swamp last year.
Like Dooley said, it's got
the scars to prove it.
Ask A.J. Johnson, Brian Randolph or James Stone if they don't have a better idea of what "big-boy" football feels like than they did one year ago.
They're still big boys, but not the biggest boys, Florida and UT. While their method of how to win games clashes, they're otherwise in the same boat.
Both programs are trying to establish a new identity, the Vols in Dooley's third season, the Gators in Will Muschamp's second.
Saturday is a step in that direction for the winner.
The winner can make a case for being a contender in the SEC East title race. The Vols haven't contended since 2007. Florida's most recent title was 2009.
Georgia and South Carolina run the show in the SEC East these days. It's early, but neither has done anything to suggest being overrated.
If Florida wins Saturday, the Gators are 2-0 in the conference standings with two big road wins in the barn.
If Tennessee wins, the Vols would only be 1-0 when they visit Athens in two weeks. But a big 1-0.
It would be a sign the scars weren't for nothing. A sign it's time to start competing for championships again.