Tennessee ended the year just 84 yards short of the school's seemingly unbreakable offensive record.
The Vols also ended the year 5-7.
The sharp contrast between the Vols' historic offensive production and the team's dismal record on the scoreboard is one of the most perplexing and frustrating parts of a dismal season.
Led by a collection of talented junior and senior playmakers, Tennessee's offensive output was years in the making, said offensive coordinator Jim Chaney. But with many of those players expected to depart for the NFL, there's a sense that this special offensive season was squandered.
Tennessee ended the season with 5,711 yards — or about 476 per game. The 1997 team amassed 5,794 yards, and it has an SEC championship to show for it.
This year's Vols have much less to show for their efforts, although the season-ending 37-17 victory over Kentucky at Neyland Stadium on Saturday helped ease the sting of a losing season.
"It's hard," said junior Justin Hunter. "Last year, our offense was kind of bad. We were struggling a little bit. It just flip-flopped this year."
The transformation has been jarring. The defense that was at least adequate and sometimes quite good last year under former coordinator Justin Wilcox has been one of the worst in the nation under Sal Sunseri.
The offense was the issue in 2011, when the Vols lacked a running game, struggled on the offensive line and were beset by injuries.
"This offense started three long years ago," Chaney said. "What you're seeing today is a by-product of three long years of nurturing and learning. There were a few bumps and bruises along the way offensively. It was a short 12 months ago we were in Lexington and couldn't get a first down to save our lives. But these kids playing on the field now are juniors and seniors, instead of freshmen and sophomores. I think the familiarity with what we do, and the belief in what we do, helped us."
Chaney's beautiful creation may have gone to waste, and there's no guarantee it can be recaptured in 2013. Offensive lineman Dallas Thomas, tight end Mychal Rivera, fullback Ben Bartholomew and receiver Zach Rogers are all seniors who are departing.
Quarterback Tyler Bray, receivers Cordarrelle Patterson and Hunter and offensive lineman Ja'Wuan James are juniors who could leave early for the NFL.
All four players were noncommittal about their plans.
"I'm not thinking about it right now," Hunter said. "I'm just thinking about this good win we had and I'm about to go celebrate with my teammates."
Hunter said the new coach could figure into his plans. Bray said the decisions of teammates — like Hunter and Patterson — could affect his choice. James continued to lobby for the retention of line coach Sam Pittman.
All four players have enjoyed individual highlights this year, but none more so than Patterson. He added more breathtaking plays on Saturday.
Chaney praised Patterson's work ethic, but added with a smile that the first-year Vol is a "little arrogant ... He knows he's pretty damn good."
Because of that, most consider Patterson's tenure at Tennessee to be one and done.
"It was an awesome year," Patterson said. "Things came up big for me. I didn't expect any of this coming from junior college. I didn't even think I was going to play that much. I just came here and worked hard every day and good things happened."
Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.