With the Vols starting the season with two wins, rejoining the ranks of the Associated Press Top 25, and preparing to welcome the Florida Gators back to Rocky Top for the SEC opener, the talk of the town in Knoxville is overwhelmingly "football time in Tennessee."
ESPN announced Tuesday its College GameDay program will be held Saturday morning in Circle Park. UT also announced the game against Florida will feature a sold out Neyland Stadium.
After the last few years of less than great gridiron performances, Vols fans and local businesses say the return to college football's rarefied air is priceless.
"Everybody's excited with the big crowd coming in," said Half-Barrel bartender Kate Wagner. "It is just a sea of orange. It is everywhere and it is multiplied 10 to 20 times when there is this much excitement."
Businesses along "the strip" on Cumberland Avenue beside campus benefit from sold out home games. The overflow crowds generally pour into the bars to watch the Vols.
The last time the Vols were in the Associated Press Top 25 was the 2008 preseason poll. UT was coming off a 10-4 season when it claimed the SEC East Division title and won the Outback Bowl. The Vols kicked off the 2008 season ranked 18th against UCLA. The Bruins bounced UT in overtime and out of the top 25 polls for the next four years.
UT finished 2008 with a 5-7 record and fired legendary coach Phillip Fulmer. Fans promptly climbed aboard the "Lane Train" to start 2009 with the arrival of new head coach Lane Kiffin. But UT once again started the season with a loss to UCLA. The season then ended with the Kiffin era up in smoke after he vacated the Vols for Southern Cal after just one year on the job.
But UT kept rebuilding the program with Derek Dooley and also rebuilt portions of Neyland Stadium with several renovations. Although it is early in the season, UT finds itself back in the Top 25, ESPN College GameDay back in Rocky Top, and an overall hype that has fans and ticket prices riding high.
Many fans are directed by UT to buy and sell tickets on the website StubHub.com. The site is particularly attractive for people buying tickets for groups that want to guarantee seats together. The site charges up to a 10% processing fee on top of the listed ticket price as well as a $5 fee for each order.
As of Tuesday afternoon, even the nosebleed seats with a vantage point comparable to Google Earth were listed for large amounts. A seat on the top row of the upper deck beneath the jumbotron would cost $147.33 after fees. One of the least expensive seats in the lower level corner costs $177.70 after fees. End-zone bleacher seats on the lower level go for $214. And if you want a seat on the Tennessee sideline, be ready to shell out $280.
The most expensive and unrealistically optimistic listing on the website was for a second row seat along the Tennessee sideline in Section T. The listed price was $770, which means after fees it would cost $852 on StubHub.
If the inflated prices for this weekend's game are too rich for your orange blood, the folks at the Half-Barrel say they'll have the best seat in the house.
"We have the game on every one of our televisions and we've got a bunch of them," said Wagner. "People just like being down here with all of the excitement."