The Vols aren't ready for a BCS bid just yet but the team that trots onto Shields-Watkins Field Saturday against the Gamecocks is a far cry from the one that lost 19-15 to UCLA on the same field in Week 2.
Offensively, the vast improvement made by quarterback Jonathan Crompton in recent weeks has made a dramatic difference.
"I think he's been doing a terrific job all year," Vol offensive tackle Aaron Douglas, "but he's been playing REALLY great these past few weeks, and it definitely gives our offense a boost. He's our leader, and we stand by him through thick and thin, whatever happens. I definitely think it's helping our offense a lot, confidence-wise."
When Crompton threw seven interceptions in the first three games, Tennessee's coaches basically abandoned the downfield passing attack. Now that he has thrown just three picks in the past four games, the staff is opening up the attack a lot more. That makes the Vols much less predictable and much more dangerous.
"It's all starting to come together," Douglas said. "We're getting better each week, and we're building on that. We're going to continue to build going into South Carolina. You definitely get to do a few more things when the coaches have more confidence in you."
That confidence was evident in the second half of last weekend's game against top-ranked Alabama. The Vols dominated the Tide, keeping the ball for nearly 21 of the final 30 minutes.
"We went out and played our game," Douglas noted. "We can have the ball a long time when we play our game. There weren't any major adjustments; we just went out there and played our style of football."
Defensively, Tennessee's "style of football" is downright stingy. The Vols surrendered four field goals each to Georgia and Alabama in Games 6 and 7 but allowed zero offensive touchdowns.
"Two games and not giving up a touchdown ... only one time has a team gotten into the red zone against us," head coach Lane Kiffin noted. "Our defensive staff is doing a great job, and the players are responding."
So, why are the Vols so much better now than they were in that lackluster loss to UCLA?
"We know so much more now than we knew before the UCLA game about our team, about our players," Kiffin said. "We have people playing different spots and some people sitting on the bench that were playing in those (early) games.
"You know so much more about the guys on your roster - what motivates 'em, what exactly can they do best. That's why, if you're doing things right, you see improvement."
Tennessee fans have seen that improvement for the past month. The South Carolina Gamecocks get to see it Saturday night. They may not like what they see.