In hindsight, the signs might have been there all along for Tennessee.
The first offseason workout produced a fractured ankle for a starting linebacker, and Herman Lathers would miss the entire year.
The presumptive answer for woes in the return game broke his collarbone early and Devrin Young was sidelined for all of training camp.
In the middle of August, the Vols dismissed perhaps their most valuable defensive player for a violation of team rules, ruling Janzen Jackson out of their plans.
Even without any adversity once Derek Dooley's second season officially began, the Vols coach had dealt with plenty on a roster still being rebuilt. But UT wasn't done, losing its top receiver in the third game with torn knee ligaments, watching its other starting safety go down with an injury and also playing five games without its quarterback during the most brutal stretch on the schedule.
After all of that, the Vols still had a chance to punch a ticket to a bowl game. But instead of finding out a possible postseason destination tonight, the program has been forced to take a hard look at what it will take to get back to contending for championships instead of Music City Bowl appearances as Dooley gears up for his third year at the helm.
"Sometimes you don't get always what you want," Dooley said after closing a losing campaign at Kentucky.
"But a lot of times you get what you deserve, and we're not a good football team. We've got a lot of work that we need to do to be a good football team. We need to go to work at that.
"Going to a bowl will make you think you better than you are. Probably wouldn't have helped us, when I look at it. We need to know that there's a lot of things you have to do to be a good player, and there's a lot of things you have to do to be a good team. And we aren't doing what we need to do, so we don't deserve to get rewarded."
After its 26-game winning streak over the Wildcats came to an end, there was little doubt about that for UT. There's also not much question that the Vols aren't aiming to simply earn a bid to a bowl game at the end of each season.
But if things had to get worse before they could better, the Vols might have reached the point where there's nowhere to go but up.
"At some point, we had to hit a real low point with where this program is, and I knew we were going to hit one," Dooley said. "I hoped we wouldn't, but it's inevitable. You're going to hit a bottom.
"We're going to begin our climb right now."