Let’s face it, Tennessee’s season hasn’t exactly gone according to plan so far. Two early disappointing losses to Georgia State and BYU led most of the fan base to believe it was going to be one of the worst seasons in Tennessee football history. A week four bludgeoning in The Swamp didn’t exactly help things either. The season outlook was looking bleak at best, program crippling at worst.

Then came the bye week. What specifically happened during that bye week within the program, I’m sure I don’t know. But it was something good. Since then, they’ve hung with top-5 Georgia for a half, beaten a Mississippi State team that wasn’t a pushover, and given No. 1 Alabama a genuine scare. Sure, two of those were moral victories, but when you have 11 wins in two and-a-half years, you take any victories you can get.

The pitiful start to the season seems like so long ago.

All of that leaves Jeremy Pruitt and company in a weird spot. There are plenty of reasons for optimism: Brian Maurer has been a revelation when healthy, both offensive and defensive lines have come into their own, and many of the hyped true freshmen are showing real promise. But the fact of the matter is, Tennessee still has a 2-5 overall record. And while I doubt that is lost on anyone within the program, there’s still a big hill to climb to get to the preseason goal of a bowl game.

Just to recap, Tennessee went from bad, to worse, to quasi-redeemed, to currently looking at a 60-degree incline hill to get to a bowl game. But it’s still possible. Sure, there’s doubts, but we’ve seen the last few weeks that this team is capable of hanging with just about anyone in the country.

Every game left on the schedule should be winnable, too.

Outside of a win in Athens against an uninspired Georgia team, South Carolina hasn’t looked like a world-beater.

UAB is 6-1 and a G5 team (Tennessee is 0-1 on the year against G5 teams), but a G5 team, nonetheless.

Kentucky has been struggling and is starting to look like Kentucky again after a top-25 season last year.

Missouri proved last week that they might care more about that postseason ban than they’ve been letting on.

Vanderbilt is as mercurial as any team in college football.

Basically, Tennessee’s season starts again on Saturday. The hype around the program has, for the most part, returned to around preseason levels. Despite the record, people are excited for Tennessee football to play again. Or at least as excited as they can be given the past few years.

Most people will forgive the atrocious start to the season if the Vols can just reach a bowl game. If they do, that means they won four of the five games listed above, a good sign that things are headed in the right direction. It would also show marked signs of improvement from a 5-7 season last year.