If you're in any way associated with the Tennessee football program at the moment, life has been good. As eyes across the country have been on the Vols, the staff has taken advantage of the spotlight on the recruiting trail. But now the real test begins, as Josh Heupel and the Vols try not to lose their momentum.
It's easy to get caught up in the moment. Expectations have been high after every media entity was in town to watch the critical win over Florida.
But as several folks mentioned to me over the last four days, it's business as usual for this team.
This team can't control the outside noise, as Josh Heupel mentioned before, but they can surely embrace it
"The outside noise, the opportunity that's here, you work to have these opportunities," Heupel discussed during the lead-up to Florida. "Earlier in the week, I told our players to enjoy the fact that we have this opportunity, but that has nothing to do with how we play. We have to prepare the right way. We've been pretty good up to this point, so we have to finish it out."
Can this football team survive a game in Death Valley? It will depend on Hendon Hooker and the uptempo offense. Heupel's offense leads the SEC in scoring and total offense with 48.5 points per game and 559 yards per game. Playing without Cedric Tillman again could present challenges, but his teammates stepped up against the Gators. So I expect the same against LSU.
Josh Heupel provided a small update on Tillman's status during his Monday press conference.
"Cedric did have surgery. Just had an opportunity to speed up the recovery process side of it. We'll see where he's at. He was limited, but moving around a little bit today. We'll continue to see how it unfolds this week and see where we're at."
A Tamed Death Valley Will Benefit Vols
I'll say this, ESPN did the Vols a massive favor by putting them on at 11 am local time. This also occurred because CBS wanted the Alabama-Texas A&M game, which I imagine they're regretting now. A tamed Tiger Stadium enjoying brunch, rather than a chaotic night game in Baton Rouge is a clear benefit to the Vols.
It didn't matter what time Tennessee played at LSU, it was going to be tough. I've said numerous times that the Pittsburgh game was the true test of the season, but now that it's in the rear-view mirror, making the most out of the opportunities presented is key to whether the Vols finish 10-2 or 9-3.
The Burden Of Expectation On Tennessee
A team doesn't get many opportunities like this in a season, but I don't know many folks who thought Tennessee would be ranked 8th in the country heading into the sixth week of the season. But if we're being honest, this conference is so difficult to navigate, the top-ten ranking could be gone by Saturday afternoon.
If the Vols want to prove that this isn't a fluke, beating LSU on Saturday would certainly make a bigger statement to the college football world. Going on the road and winning in the SEC is hard enough, just ask Kentucky or Texas A&M. But this game is different than years past for Tennessee, with the burden of expectation sitting on the Vols' shoulders. But it feels as if this group of Vols will embrace the expectations, which will only benefit them on Saturday and the remainder of the season.
There haven't been many times in recent memory where we expected Tennessee to be undefeated heading into the Alabama game, but this is the opportunity that awaits the Vols.
Can they capitalize on this moment? Only time will tell, but it's all building up to a crazy Saturday in Death Valley.