The 2011 NFL Draft kicks off Thursday at 8 p.m.
Former SEC standouts Cam Newton of Auburn, Marcell Dareus of Alabama, A.J. Green of Georgia and Patrick Peterson of LSU are all expected to be selected very early — possibly all among the first six players selected.
But don't expect any Tennessee players to be selected in the first round.
In fact, don't expect many former Volunteers to be selected at all.
For better or worse, only two former UT players — tight end Luke Stocker and wide receiver Denarius Moore — are likely to hear their names called in the seven-round draft, which takes place over three days.
Only the first round takes place Thursday. The second and third rounds take place Friday night with rounds four through seven on Saturday.
That doesn't mean other former Vols such as wide receiver Gerald Jones, middle linebacker Nick Reveiz or offensive guard Jarrod Shaw won't play in the NFL.
After all, the NFL rushing champion this past season — Arian Foster, who played at Tennessee — went undrafted in 2009.
Former Vol quarterback Heath Shuler passed up a chance to contend for the Heisman Trophy in 1994 and was the third overall pick by the Washington Redskins. He played just four seasons in the league, throwing just 15 touchdown passes before retiring because of a foot injury.
Still, the fact that this will be the first draft since 2005 in which a Vol has not been selected in the first round is an indication of where the program has been the past few seasons.
Going back to 2000, UT has produced 60 draft picks, the fifth most of any school, including 12 first-round picks, tied with Oklahoma for the sixth most.
Other schools that rank in the top 10 of those lists include SEC powerhouses Florida, Georgia and LSU, as well as USC, Ohio State and Oklahoma, to name a few.
Yet one glaring discrepancy separates Tennessee from every other school listed in either of those stats: a BCS bowl game.
The Vols have not played in a BCS bowl game since the 1999 season, when they played Nebraska in the 2000 Fiesta Bowl. It was the third consecutive major bowl UT had played in: 1999 Fiesta Bowl against Florida State for the first-ever BCS National Championship and 1998 Orange Bowl against Nebraska.
UT has also not won an SEC title since 1998, losing the championship game on three occasions since: in 2001 to LSU and in 2004 and 2007 to Auburn.
So what's the reason for UT producing as much NFL talent as other schools in the country that have competed for — and won — conference and national titles?
An obvious answer would be coaching, or specifically the coaching turnover that ravaged the Vols' football program in recent years.
Yet the firing of Phillip Fulmer in 2008, which ultimately led to Lane Kiffin and Derek Dooley's arrivals in Knoxville, came after the long-time coach had endured two losing seasons in the last four years: 2005 and 2008.
The talent on those football teams, and others during the past decade, was still there at certain positions — guys like Foster, wide receiver Robert Meachem (first-round draft pick in 2007), strong safety Eric Berry (first-round pick in 2010) to name a few — but overall, the drop off in talent began soon after the 2001 season.
That 2001 team — the last UT squad that truly competed for a national title — had future NFL pass catchers Donte' Stallworth, Kelley Washington and Jason Witten, as well as John Henderson and Albert Haynesworth on the interior of its defensive line. Running back Travis Stephens ran for more yards that season than any other Vol in school history, and quarterback Casey Clausen led the Vols to road victories at Florida, Alabama and Notre Dame, as well as a Capital One (Citrus) Bowl annihilation of Michigan.
Since the upset loss to LSU in the 2001 SEC Championship, where a win would have put the Vols in the national championship game, one could argue UT hasn't been in the national spotlight on the field.
But that hasn't necessarily stemmed from a lack of talent, judging by the NFL Draft stats. It's more attributed to other schools in the conference getting better coaching and more talent.
Going forward, even if current Vols like quarterback Tyler Bray, or wide receivers Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers, or defensive end Jacques Smith become future NFL Draft picks — even first-round picks — it won't necessarily guarantee wins or championships for Tennessee.
But it sure can't hurt.