Many predicted Tennessee would be 2-6 heading into November.
Many of those same people thought the Vols would go winless in October.
Well, "the experts" were right.
This UT team has played, at least record-wise, about like many expected them to up to now.
The LSU game might be what winds up keeping the Vols at home during Christmas. Looking back, that was the game that first-year coach Derek Dooley needed to win.
Dooley needed a signature win on his resume almost as much as the Vols would need the extra two weeks of practice a bowl game would allow.
However, just as easily as UT could've won the LSU game, it just as easily could've lost to UAB at home.
A lot of those people that had the Vols in this situation back in the summer also believed the Vols could sweep through their last four games and earn a bowl bid. Now, that may seem like a little too much to ask of a team as inexperienced and injured as this one is.
Following Saturday's loss at South Carolina, senior middle linebacker Nick Reveiz said fans always remember what teams do in November. And he's right; how this team plays over the final month of the season will go a long ways toward how it will be remembered.
If Dooley can rally his troops and sweep through a November schedule in which each of the four remaining games — at Memphis, vs. Ole Miss, at Vanderbilt and vs. Kentucky — are easier than any of the previous four games, it would give confidence to a fanbase that has been counting down the days until basketball season since the Florida game in September. More importantly, it would also be a big step toward rebuilding Tennessee into a championship contender.
Fans had seen glimpses of that future championship contender's offense in the UT-Martin, Georgia and Alabama games, but in the second half of the South Carolina game, they saw it become the current Tennessee offense.
It appears true freshman Tyler Bray has overtaken junior Matt Simms as the Vols' signal caller. Bray has always been the quarterback of the future for the Vols; he just needed some time to learn how to be an SEC quarterback. He still needs more time, but Dooley must have thought he gave the Vols the best chance to win against the Gamecocks.
However, if Bray does start this Saturday at Memphis and for the rest of the year, Vols fans should not forget what Simms did for this Tennessee team. His leadership and toughness is unquestioned. He took on a leadership role over the summer after enrolling in school in January. He has made every effort to improve his play and the team's chances of winning.
From his study habits to being in attendance at the newcomers' practice sessions in August, Simms has been a solid option for the Vols this year. He isn't the reason the Vols are 0-5 in SEC play for the first time since 1977.
Along with Bray's increased playing time, wide receiver Da'Rick Rogers had his most productive day as a Vol, albeit mostly on the ground. Rogers and Justin Hunter have the potential to form one of the best wide receiver duos in the SEC, and possibly the country, over the next few years. Give this offensive line more time to gel as a unit, and it should be among the SEC's best units, as well.
On the other side of the ball, defensive end Jacques Smith appears to have Leonard Little-type pass rush ability off the edge.
There is hope for a bright future for Vols fans. The problem is right now.
Many of these underclassmen would ideally spend their first year or two playing reserve roles on teams, but the situation Tennessee faced entering this year forced Dooley to play many underclassmen, whether they were ready for SEC football or not.
Eight games into the season, many of these underclassmen have their feet wet in college football, and this team should play its best football in November.
Fans are hoping UT does just that, because that's what they will remember about this season.
—Matt Dixon is a senior in journalism and electronic media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.