The second loss is always the toughest.
It wakes up anyone who was clinging on to the dream that Tennessee still had a chance to play for the national title (myself included).
It does matter, even if most Volunteer fans said a loss to Notre Dame wouldn't be the end of the world.
Well, UT's 17-13 home loss to the Irish does mark the end of the BCS Standings' appearance in The Daily Beacon. This school's BCS rank is now officially irrelevant.
And while the sports editor of this newspaper should now officially be described as "pessimistic and difficult to read," that should also be irrelevant. While I'd like to think the words I type have some meaning at times, I'd like to hope the football players at this school can find their own meaning in playing the rest of the season.
And I think they have.
"We can still accomplish everything we set out to accomplish at the beginning of the season," junior wide receiver C.J. Fayton said after the loss.
While I hope that statement is not entirely true - I hope the Vols originally set out to win the national title - even this fickle observer would be pleased to see UT finish out 2004 with three straight wins and an SEC title.
"Our goals are not lost," coach Phillip Fulmer said. "We still want to win the Southeastern Conference. We have two games to win to get a chance to do that."
And the defense - which includes SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week Jesse Mahelona - should be enough to give them that chance.
But without Erik Ainge or Brent Schaeffer under center on offense - the two freshman phenoms have fallen to injury in the last two games and are out for at least a few weeks - winning at Vanderbilt and at home against Kentucky is no longer a lock.
The Vols will likely be led at quarterback by the same player I said I would refuse to watch in Atlanta if Tennessee manages to make it that far. I hate to admit this ... but I also predicted that same player would throw the game-clinching interception in the third quarter seconds before it actually happened (any of four people sitting nearby can verify this).
While the sports editor has the audacity to brag about foreseeing Rick Clausen's mistake that basically cost UT the game, the players should pay no attention.
And they're not.
"We're going to rally around Rick (Clausen)," Fayton said. "We think he can lead us these next two games. We'll come out and practice hard, get Rick some reps and get him some confidence."
Seems the bye week couldn't have come at a better time.
Now, Vol fans can watch Georgia lose to Auburn on Saturday, then conclude that even a loss to either Vanderbilt on Nov. 20 or to Kentucky the next week wouldn't be the end of the world.
Bad idea.
Because if UT is unable to pound the rock hard enough to beat lowly Vanderbilt and Kentucky, then the Vols certainly won't have enough confidence to beat an undefeated Auburn team for the SEC title. And if Tennessee does manage to lose two more games, I have two terrifying words for you:
Peach Bowl.
- Matt Giles is the sports editor of The Daily Beacon and a senior in journalism. He can be reached at mgiles@utk.edu.