Tennessee Stat Book
Tennessee wasn't good enough to beat South Carolina on Saturday. But it proved it's capable of beating anyone it plays in November.
Flash back to preseason when there was speculation as to how a program as successful as UT's might handle a 2-6 start. You might have got the answer you wanted Saturday afternoon at Williams-Brice Stadium.
After the Gamecocks scored quickly and easily off UT mistakes to take a 24-10 lead early in the third quarter, you could sense the beginning of a rout, much like the one which began in the third quarter a week earlier against Alabama. Instead, you had the Vols rallying to tie the game.
Although they weren't capable of finishing what they started, their resiliency in a 38-24 loss indicated they could have the wherewithal for another comeback. Just as they were being shoved toward the worst-case scenario predicted for them in preseason, the Vols made a game of it.
They also made a case for the games to come.
Four of UT's losses have come against nationally ranked teams - No. 1 Oregon, No. 5 Alabama, No. 12 LSU and No. 18 South Carolina. But following a predominantly uphill climb through the first two-thirds of the schedule, UT finally has reached a level playing field. No longer will it have to overcome an obvious talent disadvantage.
And based on the way it played in the third quarter at South Carolina, it's not ready to give up on the season.
As disheartened as it might be by a four-game losing streak, it shouldn't feel out of place during the November portion of its schedule. It will fit right in.
n Up next is Memphis, which, if not for winless Akron and New Mexico, could be touted as the worst team in the country. The only thing that separates the Tigers from the Zips and Lobos is one off Saturday on which it they mysteriously defeated Middle Tennessee State. In the last four games, Memphis has been outscored 201-13.
n Following Memphis is Ole Miss, which has lost three consecutive games and has two of the worst losses in the SEC - to Jacksonville State, and Vanderbilt.
n The Commodores have hit their stride since upsetting Ole Miss. They have dropped to 114th nationally in total offense and have lost three consecutive games by a combined score of 113-21.
n Kentucky fooled its fans with a 3-0 start but has since lost five of six games.
Much has been made of UT going 0-for-October, but its November opponents didn't exactly own the month. They were a combined 3-15.
UT fans might not get revved up at the possibility of winning out against four losing teams. But it beats the alternative.
And it would be especially meaningful to the players.
As bad as it this season has been, it could get significantly worse. These Vols still have the potential to lose more games than any other team in school history, go winless in the SEC, and end a 25-game winning streak against Kentucky. They also have a chance to finish the season on a winning streak, qualify for a bowl and have a winning record.
There's a big difference in the two scenarios. And that difference will be magnified in the years to come.
One month might not seem like much. But in a season gone wrong, that's enough time for a team to change how it's remembered.