This is not fun. Or easy. Or going away soon.
After the inexplicable loss to Kentucky -- a struggling team that put a wideout at quarterback and ran the same five to seven plays for three hours -- left the Tennessee Volunteers at 5-7 for 2011. You know this.
That means no bowl game. That means back-to-back losing seasons, something that has not happened in a hundred years of UT football. That means a winning streak over the Wildcats that had survived since the Reagan administration is over.
After Saturday, the knowns and the unknowns of the status of the Vols program are far-reaching.
That last group has one team that is bowl-eligible and one team that won Saturday with a wideout at quarterback. Neither is Tennessee.
The facts show that Bray as the starter is 4-3 against SEC opponents (wins last year against Ole Miss, Vandy and Kentucky and a 2011 win against Vandy). The facts also show a guy who was less than good Saturday and led an offense that managed one touchdown against a Kentucky team that allowed 38 points to Vandy and 14 to Jacksonville State.
Was Bray's thumb to blame for his horrid showing against Kentucky? That's a very plausible theory, but how would you finish this sentence, "You know Tyler Bray's a good quarterback because he beat _"? (If Cincinnati's your answer, well, OK, but that's not overly inspiring.)
LSU and Bama are the class of college football. Arkansas and South Carolina are at their peaks as SEC members. Auburn won the BCS in 2010, and Georgia will be fully stocked as the East favorite next fall and could be positioned for a possible run to bigger things. Florida's struggles with a first-year coach and a defense loaded with sophomores at least offer some optimistic angles. Vandy is working on an extension for first-year coach James Franklin, who just guided the Commodores to their fifth bowl game in program history.
That leaves UT, Kentucky, Ole Miss and Mississippi State in the bottom of the buzz barrel. Mississippi State took a step back in 2011, but that was after finishing 15th in the country in 2010. Ole Miss is in limbo, but the right coaching hire could create a lot of talk around the Rebels. That leaves UT and UK, and, well, Saturday sealed that, didn't it?
Certainly blocking and tackling are far more important concerns than buzzing and trending for a college football coach -- especially one with as many problems to fix as Dooley has.
But Dooley is certainly smart enough to know that there are two ways for college programs to attract attention and buzz -- winning or changing the regime.
And when the former doesn't happen, the latter almost always does.
Contact Jay Greeson at email@example.com or 423-757-6273.