Tennessee Stat Book
If there's any consolation for Tennessee after another heartbreaking SEC loss Saturday at South Carolina, it's this: The hard part is over.
After the game, Tennessee coach Derek Dooley spoke of salvaging 2012 by way of a "second season."
The first season — conference games against five ranked opponents — was a failure, Dooley acknowledged. The second gives players something left to play for.
"We didn't really accomplish what we wanted to against these SEC top teams. But we've got to turn the page," Dooley said Sunday. "There's a lot at stake down the stretch. We can still have a really good season.
"We have to view this as a second season ... The only way to claw our way out of hurting is to win the next one."
Tennessee (3-5) plays Troy (4-4) on Saturday (TV: FSTN, noon) at Neyland Stadium, the first of four games that the Vols will be expected to win.
The early line from Vegas gives the Vols a 20.5-point edge on Troy. Upcoming games against Missouri (4-4), at Vanderbilt (4-4) and Kentucky (1-8) could be more difficult, but the Vols are likely to be favored in all of them.
Tennessee's five "first season" losses came to opponents with an overall record of 36-5. The "second season" opponents are a combined 13-20. The final three SEC opponents are only 3-13 in the league.
The final four games are likely to be played amid intensified discussion of Dooley's job security. Dooley, in his third season at Tennessee, is 14-19 overall and 4-17 in the SEC. He's 0-15 against ranked opponents, and the South Carolina game was likely his final opportunity to break that streak in 2012.
Will he get another chance in 2013? There's been no indication that Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart plans to make a move now, meaning these final four games could factor in his post-season evaluation of Dooley and the direction of
In Saturday's 38-35 loss, players said they were aware of the stakes, but weren't focused on their coach's future.
"Yeah, I mean everyone's always talking about Coach Dooley being on the hot seat," said quarterback Tyler Bray. "No one really worries about that. He's going to put us in a great position to win, and we've got to execute, which we've failed to do."
Senior receiver Zach Rogers said the final games are important for everyone.
"We've got to play for coach (Dooley), we got to play for ourselves, we got to play for this university," Rogers said. "It's not just one individual we're playing for. This hurts the whole community when we lose like this."
Four of Tennessee's losses have been reasonably close, but Saturday's defeat was likely the toughest. The Vols were driving for a potential go-ahead touchdown late in the fourth quarter when Bray fumbled after being hit by South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.
Troy suffered its own heartbreaker Saturday at Florida Atlantic. FAU drove 74 yards to score the winning touchdown with 17 seconds left in the game to break a 14-game losing streak in the Sun Belt conference.
Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.