Indeed. Of UT's 10 largest home crowds, the Vols had won just four times before nipping Florida by four. Now, the Vols are 5-5 in front of at least 23,150 in Knoxville.
As exciting as the win was over Florida, Pearl knows his team can't rest on its laurels, even against Mississippi State, which is 1-4 in SEC play. The Vols visit the Bulldogs on Wednesday night.
In an effort to keep his players from getting full of themselves after a 12-3 start (3-1 in the SEC), Pearl provided a three-step approach: ``Stay focused, humble and hungry.''
Focused, humble and hungry.
That describes the Pearl approach. It also has described the Vols' approach. They have now defeated the No. 2 and No. 6 teams in the country. They have not lost at home. And they are getting contributions from three or four players that seem better suited for the Ohio Valley Conference, not the Southeastern Conference.
In beating Florida, Tennessee not only did a service to itself but perhaps the SEC.
The SEC needs a rivalry that doesn't involve Kentucky. Kentucky is a rival to Tennessee, Florida, LSU and Vanderbilt. Ole Miss and Mississippi State are rivals, but the stakes generally aren't high. LSU-Alabama is close, but it doesn't compare to the ill will on the football field. LSU-Tennessee was a rivalry when Dale Brown and Don DeVoe patrolled the sidelines, but that was years ago.
When Kentucky is down in basketball, like this year, the rest of the nation perceives the league is down. Yet, the SEC has some quality teams like Florida, LSU, Alabama, Tennessee and Vanderbilt that appear NCAA tournament bound.
In football, there must be a dozen SEC rivalries – Tennessee-Florida, Tennessee-Georgia, Florida-Auburn, Auburn-Georgia, Auburn-Alabama, LSU-Alabama. The list goes on and on. In part because there so many rival games and good teams, the SEC in football is always considered among the nation's top conferences.
In the ACC, a rivalry game is played almost every week in January and February. The hype helps build the ACC's reputation.
In SEC men's basketball, we might now have Tennessee-Florida as a top-notch rivalry. The Vols have beaten the Gators in Knoxville six of the last nine meetings. UT has won two of the last six in Gainesville.
Billy Donovan has been to the Final Four and has a perennial NCAA Tournament and Top 25 team.
Tennessee is on the rise. The Vols have cracked the Top 25 this season. They are one of the surprise teams in the nation. Pat Forde of ESPN.com has already said Pearl is the nation's coach of the year.
And there were 24,011 to watch the teams battle it out in a high-intensity game at Thompson-Boling Arena.
It was a win that was good for Tennessee.
It was a win that was just as good for the SEC.
VOLS TO BEMORE DISCIPLINED, ATHLETIC
Tennessee should be a more disciplined and more athletic football team this fall and it's starting with the offseason.
Quarterback Erik Ainge is no longer wearing ear rings and the Vols' receivers and offensive linemen have been asked to lose weight.
Offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe prefers more mobile linemen, not bulkier linemen who had trouble blocking in space.
SANDERS' NEXT COLOR IS BLUE
Randy Sanders confirmed to me Monday morning that he has taken the quarterbacks job at Kentucky.
Sanders served as Tennessee's offensive coordinator for seven years before resigning, effective at the end of the season. Sanders is a former UT quarterback who was with the program for 22 years.