No. 8 Tennessee

Tennessee football's future is bright orange again and this season has all the ingredients to be out of this world, which reminds Rankman of his favorite astronaut drink as a kid--TANG.

All the Vols need to do to win big is add water.

Quarterback Joshua Dobbs will be the straw that stirs this drink.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here. [/membership] [membership]

It doesn't matter now how much the program has fallen off since Tee Martin, not Peyton Manning, led Tennessee to the first BCS national title in 1998. The Vols were fortunate to get to that game, remember, needing several last-weekend collapses and a hand-of-God fumble by Arkansas quarterback Clint Stoerner. The Hogs seemingly had that game in the slop-barn at Knoxville until Stoerner tripped and fumbled near midfield, which allowed Tennessee to score the game-winner.

It was so suspicious the FBI might have been called in, but let's just call it destiny.

Tennessee got another double-dose of karma in the BCS title when it got to face Florida State without quarterback Chris Weinke, who was injured.

Tennessee has not again reached such heights as it faded in the SEC East. It started with the slow, career bleed out of Coach Phil Fulmer in 2008, followed by dueling disasters Lane Kiffin and the doodling Derek Dooley.

The payoff should come right here, right now, in Butch Jones' fourth year. Like big time programs do, Tennessee settled an ugly Title IX lawsuit so as to not distract from pursuit of Title 2016. The Vols return 18 starters from a team coming off a crushing bowl win over a Northwestern team that started the year with a win over Stanford.

What the Vols need to learn is how how to win close games. They were 13-5 in their last 18, with the five losses coming by 25 total points.

Dobbs, a senior, may be the SEC's best returning quarterback, but needs some legacy polishing.

"You look at all the great players, why are they great players?" Jones asked at SEC Media Days. "Because they made a play when it mattered most to lead their team to victory."

The SEC East is Tennessee's to win. Florida is rising but not there yet and Georgia has a new coach. South Carolina moves back to the shadows without Steve Spurrier while Missouri, which not long ago won two straight divisional titles, may wish now it was back in the Big 12.

Watch out if Tennessee gets to 7-0 with a home win over Alabama on Oct. 15. After that the schedule is a slip-and-slide against South Carolina, Tennessee Tech, Kentucky, Missouri and Vanderbilt.

The only question is whether Tennessee can go from one small step to one giant leap.

Rankman is confident, by year's end, he will be celebrating the Vols' SEC East title with a giant glass of TANG.

Hey, why not shoot for the moon?

Rankman's countdown so far:No. 16 Boise State, No. 15 Washington,No. 14USC, No. 13UCLA, No. 12Stanford, No. 11 Oregon, No. 10 Ohio State, No. 9 Michigan State [/membership]

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