Tennessee closed out the 2012 season with its first SEC win, a victory that avenged a loss to Kentucky a year ago.
For the 5-7 Volunteers, everything now turns to speculation about the identity of their next coach. Rumor has it that Jon Gruden is going to be offered a boatload of money to take the job in Knoxville.
Will he take it? Probably not. But, whether he takes it or not, folks need to realize that the Tennessee program is not the same one that Phil Fulmer left behind.
Landscapes change, especially in the world of college football. There was a time when Harvard and Yale were elite programs. Army and Navy were the schools other folks envied. Oregon was a nobody and Miami was the king.
Those days have passed. For Tennessee, just like Miami, the job has gotten more difficult. For the 'Canes, it's about more teams making south Florida a staple in their recruiting. For Tennessee, it is about more teams focusing on keeping kids at home and maximizing their in-state recruiting.
In other words, the north Georgia, western North Carolina and South Carolina kids that the Volunteers used to get on a yearly basis are not being allowed to escape any longer. Clemson, South Carolina, Georgia, Auburn, Florida State, Florida and even Virginia Tech are recruiting those players and making it tough for the Volunteers.
Is the Tennessee job good? Absolutely. The Volunteers have the money, the facilities and the support to play with anyone. What they don't have is a hometown talent pool like other schools in their division, like Georgia and Florida in the SEC East. Throw in Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M in the SEC West and what you have is a Tennessee team that's fighting to get to sixth from a "get-talent-into-school" standpoint.
It's going to take a guy who is willing to grind in recruiting to push Tennessee where it wants to go. Not just a name. Not just a face. Not just a guy who can win a press conference. The Volunteers need a hustler who will sell the program to kids and build a talent base and a pipeline.
As eyes turn to the future, just know that for Tennessee, it is not going to get easier. The Vols will have their hands full, Gruden or no Gruden.