Yesterday, Tennessee lost a 38-35 heartbreaker to South Carolina, dropping their overall record to 3-5. The Volunteers are also 0-5 in the SEC alone, and most fans are ready to move on to basketball, next football season and a new head coach in Knoxville.
Not so fast, Tennessee fans.
Although the record and play of the Volunteers has been quite disappointing, there is still hope and a great chance Tennessee will be playing football in December.
Now, it won't be in the Sugar Bowl or National Championship, as I'm sure Tennessee fans are longing for, but the fact is: A bowl is a bowl, and Tennessee is in great position to make the push for a bowl game.
The last four weeks have possibly been the toughest stretch any team has faced this year in college football, but the next four weeks will see the Volunteers face a much-needed drop-off in competition.
First, Tennessee will return home to face Troy next week.
Troy isn't a top-tier team by any stretch, but it isn't bad at all. Troy is actually ranked higher than Tennessee in total offense this season, but Troy hasn't even come close to playing the level of defenses Tennessee has.
Tennessee finds itself in a must-win situation against Troy, but if the Vols play Troy like they played South Carolina, look for the Vols to come out on top.
Tennessee will then move on to face Missouri for the first time in SEC play. Missouri has looked rather lackluster this year with one of the worst offenses not only in the SEC, but in the FBS. If Tennessee's defense plays up to par and the offense can click on a few big plays, look for the Vols to have no problems with Missouri.
Years ago, the final two games on the schedule for Tennessee were always viewed as automatic wins over Vanderbilt and Kentucky; but last season, the Volunteers were upset by Kentucky and lost their chance to go to a bowl. Before we get to Kentucky, though, let's start with Tennessee's matchup against Vanderbilt.
Vanderbilt has a nice passing attack with Jordan Rodgers at quarterback and Jordan Matthews at receiver. As long as Tennessee can keep pressure on Rogers and the secondary contains Matthews, Tennessee should once again leave Nashville with a victory over Vanderbilt.
Tennessee's final game of the year will come against Kentucky. As unhappy as Tennessee fans are, imagine how Kentucky fans are feeling. After going bowling last year, Kentucky is sitting at the bottom of the SEC East, already out of bowl contention.
Tennessee, on the other hand, will likely be playing for bowl eligibility as well as attempting to gain sweet revenge after being upset by Kentucky last year. Look for Tennessee to come out swinging in Knoxville at the end of November against the Wildcats.
Tennessee may not have defeated the big name SEC teams, and head coach Derek Dooley's job may still be in a little trouble, but winning the next four games is key for the Tennessee Volunteers to reach a bowl as well as to regain the attention of fans already looking forward to the rumored Jon Gruden era and 2013.
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