It's been a tale of two teams in Tennessee this year. One has risen from the dark depths of the SEC East cellar to become bowl eligible for the first time since 1982, while the other has awoken from dreams of another appearance in the conference championship game to the harsh reality of a 3-7 record.
The Volunteers will travel to Nashville to take on the Vanderbilt Commodores (6-4) on Saturday. Unlike their trips to the state's capitol in previous years, Tennessee will face a very talented Vandy squad.
While Vandy fans are celebrating the team's success, it hasn't all been smooth sailing. Vanderbilt started out 5-0, with big wins against South Carolina and Auburn, before dropping four games in a row, including losses to Duke and Mississippi State.
Nevertheless, Vandy's last performance, a 31-24 victory at Kentucky, should give Tennessee plenty of reason to fear the 'Dores.
Quarterback Chris Nickson played his best game of the year at Kentucky, passing for 155 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for an additional 118 yards. Also, Eric Berry and the rest of the secondary will be keeping an eye on cornerback/receiver D.J. Moore.
Moore not only had two interceptions on defense but also caught two touchdown passes last week against Kentucky. He has given a much-needed spark to an offense that ranks last in the SEC in passing yards per game.
"They're (Vanderbilt) a good football team," said Tennessee's head coach Phillip Fulmer at Tuesday's media conference. "They've done a good job of using their personnel, particularly when D.J. Moore comes over and gives them some plays from an offensive standpoint. He's certainly one of the best players in our league."
However, the Vols are second to last in the category and will turn to former starter Jonathan Crompton this week as they continue to search for consistency on offense. Crompton's stats are comparable with Nick Stephens', but with nothing left to play for but pride, Tennessee hopes Crompton, a junior, can provide some leadership.
On the other hand, a quarterback change this late in the year only further exemplifies Tennessee's desperation for success on offense.
However, Fulmer pointed out that the offensive struggles have not just been a result of who's taking the snaps for the Volunteers.
"You can't just point to the quarterback, everybody wants to do that," Fulmer said. "We've had our inconsistencies in a lot of other places, whether it be running the ball, protection, or consistently catching the ball."
Look no further than senior running back Arian Foster for an example of the offense's 2008 struggles. After rushing for 1,193 yards and 12 touchdowns last year, Foster has only gained 458 yards with only one touchdown. In fact, Tennessee is second-to-last in the conference in rushing yards per game.
With both offenses near the bottom of the conference, it should be a defensive battle. Berry and Moore are tied for the most interceptions (six) in the conference this year, and turnovers that create short fields for these anemic offenses could be the difference.
Along with consistency on offense, the Vols will be searching for their first win on the road this year. In the past, Vanderbilt Stadium has been a home away from home as the Big Orange Nation consistently floods over the few Commodore fans left in the seats this far into another disappointing football season for the 'Dores. However with Tennessee at 3-7, it might be more fashionable to wear black and gold in Nashville this weekend.
With all of Tennessee's troubles this year, Fulmer makes this week's goal clear and simple, "We need to take the plan that's in place and execute it."
Kickoff is set for 12:30 p.m. EST.