Today's game is merely Step 1 in a gauntlet that finds Fulmer facing three coaches against whom he has a combined record of 7-14 – Georgia's Mark Richt (2-4), Alabama's Nick Saban (1-2) and South Carolina's Steve Spurrier (4-8).
Could Tennessee lose all three games? Absolutely.
Georgia, 4-1 and ranked No. 12 nationally, is 3-0 on its last three visits to Neyland Stadium. Bama is 3-2 and unranked but the Tide will have a huge home-field advantage Oct. 20 in Tuscaloosa. Carolina, 5-1 and ranked No. 11, will be looking for its second consecutive win at Neyland Stadium on Oct. 27.
Should Tennessee drop all three games, Fulmer's record against Richt, Saban and Spurrier would fall to 7-17. If you throw in an 0-3 mark against Florida coach Urban Meyer, the Vols' head man would be 7-20 against four peers he must face on an annual basis. That would not bode well for Tennessee's future.
Here's something else that would not bode well for Tennessee's future:
- Florida has nine new starters on defense and a sophomore quarterback (Tim Tebow) who will be back in 2008.
- Georgia has eight new starters on defense and a sophomore quarterback (Matthew Stafford) who will be back in 2008.
- Alabama has six new starters on defense and a junior quarterback (John Parker Wilson) who will be back in 2008.
- South Carolina has a fast-improving young squad that includes a freshman quarterback (Chris Smelley) who will be back in 2008.
The Gators, Dawgs, Tide and Gamecocks all project to be better in '08 than they are in '07. So, if Tennessee can't beat those teams this season, its chances don't look to be a whole lot better next season.
In addition to Georgia, Bama and South Carolina, this month's Vol slate includes a visit to Mississippi State on the 13th. The Bulldogs are no pushovers, as they proved conclusively by winning 19-14 at Auburn on Sept. 15.
Obviously, if Fulmer can go 4-0 this month, he will solidify his job status and quiet some of the grumbling.
If Fulmer stumbles, however, this could be one sober October.