KNOXVILLE — Tennessee's 2016 football season will end in the same city where the Volunteers endured their darkest hour only a little more than a couple of weeks ago.
As Tennessee fully began preparations this week for the Music City Bowl against Nebraska on Dec. 30, the memories of the loss at Vanderbilt to end the regular season remain fresh.
Those visions likely won't leave any time soon, either.
"Don't get me wrong, that loss is not forgotten," guard Jashon Robertson said following Tuesday's practice. "It's kind of getting used as motivation going forward of not letting or allowing something like that to happen again. Sitting on that, getting your body, getting your mind right and sitting on that with that in the back of your mind, it energizes you every day.
"As a veteran player I do see a lot of guys coming out here with an extra bounce in their step, working hard and working hard for opportunities going forward."
Tennessee threw away an opportunity to play in the Sugar Bowl by letting the Commodores score the final 21 points of a 45-34 triumph, Vanderbilt's third in five years against the Vols.
No coach or player at Tennessee wants to be associated with a loss to Vanderbilt, and the defeat cast a shadow of disappointment on the 2016 season and the program's future exiting its fourth season under Butch Jones.
For the first time in his tenure Jones can't tout Tennessee's progress as the Vols enter next season with plenty of questions regarding the loss of some key talented players and how different the coaching staff may look.
Jones insists Tennessee isn't in as bad as shape as some narratives may suggest.
"It is set up for the future, and we always talk about consistency and sustained success, and that's what we're building in this football program," he said. "All you have to do is look in the weight room and look at the number of players (in there). You guys see it in practice.
"I understand there was an article that came out with many unnamed sources, and I don't stand for anybody attacking our football program, because it's untrue and it's very, very unfortunate. I take that personal. I know our players take it personal and everyone in our football family takes it personal. There's so many positive things going on here with our players.
"You look at recruiting right now. That's a byproduct of our players being our best ambassadors. You look at how far we've come in the program. Have we had some setbacks this year? Absolutely, but I think this football team has overcome a lot of obstacles and adversity.
"Really what you find out about people is in adverse times and adverse situations, how do they respond. It's very, very unfortunate. But I'm never going to let anybody attack our football program that doesn't know our football program."
Robertson is one of a handful of Nashville-area natives on Tennessee's roster who won't mind the chance to play a bowl game close to home, and the junior noted it likely will be his last game there during his career with the Vols, who are slated to practice at Montgomery Bell Academy, Robertson's alma mater, after they report to Nashville.
"Obviously we all had high hopes about a lot of things," he said, "but the opportunity to play again in Nashville, for me personally, and going out with a win in Nashville is very important to finish out this year."
The Vols also would like the chance to create a fresher midstate memory.
"It's understood," Robertson said. "You learn from every loss. You learn from it and you feel that as a competitor, as a fierce competitor and somebody who wants to win to every single game and expects to win every single game.
"That's not forgotten. None of the losses that I've experienced here at the University of Tennessee has been forgotten, because when you come here, you come here to win ballgames. That's the expectation."
Jones doesn't mind if his players use the Vanderbilt loss as motivation this month and beyond.
"They shouldn't forget it," the coach said. "Everyone in our football program shouldn't forget it, from myself to coaches to everyone. It's a standard and expectation in our football program. Our players understand it's part of the culture.
"They know why they're here, they understand and they take great pride in the football program, but it gets back to we're here to win football games and graduate and be successful people in their future endeavors."
Contact Patrick Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.