The seemingly endless streak was finally snapped.
The season came to a close without a bowl game.
There were no names listed lower than Tennessee's in the division standings.
One afternoon at Kentucky formally welcomed the Vols to a point they certainly would have preferred not to reach. After dropping a 10-7 decision to the Wildcats on Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium, Derek Dooley and his program are heading into the offseason believing they've officially hit rock bottom.
"At some point, we had to hit a real low point with where this program is," the Vols' coach said after the game. "And I knew we were going to hit one, I did. I hoped we wouldn't, but it's inevitable. You're going to hit a bottom.
"It's on the whole organization, and we're going to begin our climb right now."
The incline might not have appeared quite so steep without the loss to the Wildcats (5-7, 2-6 SEC), an upset that made it easy for Dooley to illustrate how far his team has to go heading into his third season.
The Vols (5-7, 1-7 SEC) had won 26 consecutive games in the series until the weekend, when a wide receiver was unexpectedly inserted at quarterback and the Wildcats squeezed out enough points to beat them.
After starting the year with a couple quick victories, including a romp over a respectable Cincinnati squad that showcased their offensive power, the Vols went more than three quarters without scoring and watched Tyler Bray complete just 15-of-38 attempts for 215 yards with two interceptions and one touchdown.
And while UT lost a starting linebacker during the offseason for the year, dismissed perhaps its best defensive player during training camp and was forced to deal with a handful of critical injuries on a roster already low on depth, it still appeared ca
pable of scratching its way out of the basement in the SEC and into the postseason.
But that was all wiped away by the Wildcats, who left the Vols with a clean slate moving forward and no doubt at all that there's plenty of work for them to do until next season.
And they also gave the Vols a head start to get rolling.
"It's really disappointing, and it's something that shouldn't happen at Tennessee," Dooley said. "And hopefully it's something that won't happen again for a long time.
"There's a lot of ways you can look at it. Sometimes you don't get always what you want, but a lot of times you get what you deserve. We're not a good football team, and we've got a lot of work that we need to do to be a good football team. Going to a bowl will make you think you are 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."
Despite their issues this season, the Vols still had chances to earn that coveted postseason berth and the extra practices that come with it.
The defense only allowed one touchdown drive, and that came with some controversy after a ruling on an apparent fumble went against UT.
The offense hit on a big play to climb back in the game in the fourth quarter, with Rajion Neal hauling in a perfectly thrown ball from Bray as part of the best outing of his career at receiver.
But there were far more opportunities that slipped away from them, from missed tackles to a critical botched snap.
And ultimately those were the plays that summed up the year and made clear the Vols have nowhere to go but up moving forward.
"Dooley's going to do big things," senior Malik Jackson said. "He's been building this team really good, and I have no doubt they're going to come out here ready to play — especially after this season."