Worst-case scenario

Tennessee fans enter each football season anticipating a winning record, and that's understandable. From 1981-2009 the Vols posted just three losing records - going 5-6 in 1988, 5-6 in 2005 and 5-7 in 2008.

Many Vol backers assume the program bottomed out with the two losing records between '05 and '08. But what if that assumption is premature? What if two head coaching changes, several lackluster recruiting years and a rash of defections has reduced the Big Orange to its lowest ebb since Johnny Majors' first team went 4-7 in 1977?

Brace yourselves. Here are four reasons that 2010 could be a 4-8 season in Big Orange Country:

1. Three of the teams on Tennessee's home schedule are nationally ranked by the Associated Press and will be road favorites when they step onto Shields-Watkins Field. Oregon (Sept. 11) is ranked No. 11, Florida (Sept. 18) is ranked No. 4 and defending national champ Alabama (Oct. 23) is ranked No. 1. That projects to be three losses right there.

2. Three opponents with enough talent to contend for top-25 rankings - LSU (Oct. 2), Georgia (Oct. 9) and South Carolina (Oct. 30) - are teams the Vols might be capable of beating in Knoxville. Unfortunately for the Big Orange, all three foes must be played on the road. The Vols appear to lack the talent, depth and experience to be a strong road team this fall. That's three more losses.

3. Ole Miss stomped Tennessee like an empty beer can (42-17) last fall in Oxford. Granted, the Rebels are replacing a bunch of key players and the game site is moving to Knoxville in 2010. Still, expecting the Big Orange to be four touchdowns better in relation to the Rebels than it was last November is asking a lot. That projects to be loss No. 7.

4. Kentucky has lost the last 25 meetings against Tennessee, the longest such streak in all of college football. That has to grate on the nerves of every Big Blue player, coach and fan. The Vols won most of those 25 meetings because they had better players. A comparison of the 2010 rosters suggests that may not be the case this year. Nothing lasts forever, including Tennessee's mastery of Kentucky. The law of averages favors the Wildcats. That's loss No. 8.

Will Tennessee lose eight games this fall? It's not likely but it's not inconceivable. Here's a brief recap of how it could happen:

Game 2: Just as UCLA did in 2009, Oregon overcomes jet-lag to defeat a Tennessee team that is struggling to adjust to a new coaching staff, new schemes and a bunch of new players.

Game 3: Florida has beaten Tennessee five times in a row, and the talent gap is more severe this time than in any of those previous encounters.

Game 5: LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis, a UT alumnus who spent 20 years on the Vol staff, has been waiting for this game ever since Tennessee canned him following the 2008 season.

Game 6: Georgia returns 10 of 11 starters on offense and has to be better on defense than a year ago.

Game 7: Alabama won the national title last year and is being projected to repeat this year. 'Nuff said.

Game 8: Steve Spurrier gets the Vols in Columbia this fall after being humiliated 31-13 in Knoxville last fall. Payback is a ... well, you know.

Game 10: Dexter McCluster is gone but he wasn't the only reason Ole Miss hammered Tennessee 42-17 last November.

Game 12: A quarter-century is a long time to go without beating your heated border rival in football. Kentucky will be pumped.

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