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Staff file photo / A young Tennessee football fan watches during the fourth quarter of the Vols' 41-0 loss to Georgia at Neyland Stadium on Sept. 30, 2017.

Our nation has reached its 245th birthday, which is certainly cause for celebration due to the abundance of freedoms and opportunities provided to its residents.

Included in those freedoms is the ability for Tennessee football fans to flush away as many recent seasons as they wish.

The Volunteers have a proud history that contains 13 Southeastern Conference championships and Associated Press national titles in 1951 and 1998, and can any program surpass Peyton Manning and Reggie White when it comes to the combination of an offensive and defensive all-timer? Yet the Vols have been mostly mundane since Phillip Fulmer's final season as coach in 2008, posting a 78-82 record with eight losing seasons in those 13 years.

Lane Kiffin, Derek Dooley, Butch Jones and Jeremy Pruitt followed Fulmer with turbulent results, and now it's Josh Heupel's turn to provide optimism for a program that has experienced nearly 30 defections through the NCAA transfer portal since last October and is likely facing NCAA sanctions from Pruitt's unstable three-year era.

How many times can a 6-6 record signal improvement? Nobody knows, but Tennessee has again arrived at square one.

Using a timeline that begins with Kiffin's decision in January 2010 to bolt for the Southern California opening — leaving behind a 2009 signing class in which only five of 22 players stayed the course in Knoxville — here is a countdown of the 11 most flushable moments of Tennessee's past 11 seasons:

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Arkansas Democrat-Gazette photo by Jason Ivester / Arkansas punt returner Joe Adams breaks free from the Tennessee coverage team to score a touchdown during the first quarter of their SEC matchup in Fayetteville on Nov. 12, 2011.

11. The Keystone Vols

When was the last time you hopped on YouTube to watch the 60-yard punt return for a touchdown by Joe Adams of Arkansas in the 49-7 thrashing of Tennessee on Nov. 12, 2011? Members of the Vols coverage team were taking out one another, and there were eight missed tackles. This loss transpired deep into Dooley's second season, and it was the biggest blowout of Tennessee's eventual 15-game losing streak against SEC West foes that was finally snuffed in 2018.

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Southeastern Conference photo / Kentucky's Kelvin Joseph steps in front of Tennessee receiver Cedric Tillman to intercept a Jarrett Guarantano pass and race 41 yards for a touchdown during last season's 34-7 win by the Wildcats in Knoxville.

10. Oh no, not Kentucky!

No matter how troubling the times for Tennessee football, there was always the baseline of beating Kentucky inside Neyland Stadium. The Wildcats traveling to Knoxville in even-numbered years and limping away losers was among the SEC's most timeworn traditions, but that streak ended abruptly last year with a 34-7 rout that served as Kentucky's first series road win since 1984. Vols starting quarterback Jarrett Guarantano threw two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns, and a season of promise that had begun with a 2-0 start and a No. 14 national ranking was forever derailed.

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AP photo by Patrick Semansky / Tennessee's Victor Thomas (52), Austin Johnson (40) and Chris Walker (84) are stunned as members of the LSU football team celebrate running back Stevan Ridley's winning touchdown at the end of their SEC matchup in Baton Rouge on Oct. 2, 2010.

9. The unlucky 13

It was the win that wasn't. On Oct. 2, 2010, Tennessee led No. 12 LSU 14-10 with the clock ticking down under five seconds and with the Tigers at the 1-yard line of the Vols. When the snap got away from quarterback Jordan Jefferson, the Vols raced out on the field and a jubilant Dooley was lifted into the air amid a silenced Tiger Stadium. The officials, however, discovered two defensive players had raced off the field before the bad snap and that four defenders replaced them for the illegal total of 13. With LSU given an additional play from the 1, Stevan Ridley slammed into the end zone for the 16-14 triumph.

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Staff file photo / Tennessee's Jashon Robertson (75) and Justin Martin (8) walk off the Neyland Stadium field together after the Vols' loss to SEC East rival Georgia on Sept. 30, 2017.

8. Decimation at Neyland

In 2016, Tennessee went to Georgia and defeated the Bulldogs 34-31 on a 43-yard Hail Mary from Josh Dobbs to Jauan Jennings as time expired. The following season, Georgia traveled to Knoxville and demolished the Vols 41-0 in Tennessee's worst home loss ever as an SEC member. The Vols were intercepted on the first play from scrimmage and finished with seven first downs and 142 total yards. "At halftime, I didn't need to go over and see the defensive players," Bulldogs second-year coach Kirby Smart said. "They had it under control. There were no adjustments."

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Staff file photo / In Butch Jones' final year as coach, 2017, Tennessee's football program sank to new lows that included finishing winless against SEC opponents.

7. The eight-loss season

The bright and affable Dobbs was appreciated as Tennessee's starting quarterback and was sorely missed after guiding the Vols to consecutive 9-4 seasons in 2015-16. A step back was expected in 2017, but nobody projected an implosion that resulted in a 4-8 record and an 0-8 mark in SEC play. Tennessee had never endured an eight-loss season or a winless record within the conference, but the fifth and final year under Jones set those dubious distinctions.

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Florida Athletics photo / Florida's Brandon Powell (4) prepares to celebrate with fellow receiver Tyrie Cleveland after Cleveland's 63-yard touchdown catch on the final play of regulation that propelled the Gators to a 26-20 win over Tennessee in 2017.

6. Swamp heartaches

Pick the year. In 2015, Tennessee traveled to Florida and built a 27-14 lead — might have been 28-14 if Jones had a different conversion chart — but wound up losing 28-27 on a 63-yard touchdown connection from Will Grier to Antonio Callaway with 1:26 remaining. Two years later, in a 20-20 game bound for overtime with nine seconds left in regulation, Feleipe Franks hurled a 63-yard strike that Tyrie Cleveland snagged as time expired, sending Tennessee back home from Gainesville dejectedly once again.

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AP photo by Wade Payne / Alabama football coach Nick Saban leaves the field at Neyland Stadium after the Crimson Tide's 58-21 win against Tennessee on Oct. 20, 2018.

5. No match for Saban

When Tennessee's most memorable moment against Alabama over the last several years is Rashaan Gaulden's double bird to the Crimson Tide student section during a 45-7 loss in 2017, that's problematic. Tennessee is 0-14 against Nick Saban since his Alabama arrival in 2007, with 12 of those contests decided by at least two touchdowns. Given the Tide's 13-0 run to last season's national championship and given Tennessee's 3-7 collapse, these two programs have never seemed further apart.

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Staff file photo / Tennessee football coach Jeremy Pruitt complains about a call during the Vols' game at Georgia Sept. 29, 2018. Pruitt's time leading the program came to an unfavorable ending this past January after three seasons, a 16-19 overall record and a Tennessee investigation that found NCAA rules violations.

4. Pruitt's termination

This one from this past January may require a couple of flushes due to the lingering effects of NCAA rules violations committed by Pruitt and former linebacker coaches Shelton Felton and Brian Niedermeyer. "It is clear that Coach Pruitt did not adequately promote an atmosphere of compliance and/or monitor the activities of the coaches and the staff who reported to him," Tennessee Chancellor Donde Plowman said when announcing the termination. With Pruitt having gone 16-19 and having cheated to do so, doesn't he have to be the worst coach in program history?

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Georgia State Athletics photo / Georgia State players celebrate their 38-30 upset of Tennessee inside Neyland Stadium in the 2019 season opener for both teams. The Panthers of the Sun Belt Conference were coming off a 2-10 record in 2018.

3. Plowed by Panthers

There was North Texas in 1975, Rutgers in 1979, Memphis in 1996 and Wyoming in 2008, but Tennessee's 38-30 loss to Georgia State was the most embarrassing in program history. Ten years before this stunning 2019 opener, the Vols whipped Mark Richt's Georgia Bulldogs and Steve Spurrier's South Carolina Gamecocks on their way to the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, while the Panthers had yet to play their first game as a program. What many people forget is that an 18-yard touchdown pass from Guarantano to Jennings with two seconds remaining prevented the final from being 38-23.

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Staff file photo by Robin Rudd / John Currie's time as Tennessee's athletic director came to a sudden ending in December 2017 after a disastrous football season and a coaching search that matched it.

2. Currie's chaotic search

In retrospect, how amazing is it that Tennessee's calamity of a coaching search in 2017 lasted 25 days? Didn't it feel like 250? The first 19 of those days were with John Currie as athletic director, but Currie was canned after striking out with Dan Mullen, Chris Peterson, Jeff Brohm, Dave Doeren and David Cutcliffe, and with swirling rumors about Jon Gruden and Lane Kiffin accompanying the search as well. Currie briefly reached a memorandum of understanding with Greg Schiano, but that led to an unprecedented social media revolt not only from Vols fans but former Tennessee players and state politicians.

Mike Leach was the last candidate to be targeted by Currie, who was brought back to Knoxville and fired. Fulmer became AD on Dec. 1 and hired Pruitt six days later.

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Staff file photo / Vanderbilt wide receiver Trent Sherfield, center, celebrates a touchdown with teammates during the Commodores' 42-24 win against Tennessee at Neyland Stadium on Nov. 25, 2017. Vanderbilt beat the Vols three seasons in a row from 2016 to 2018, a run of series success the Commodores hadn't enjoyed since the 1920s.

1. Football's closest rivalry

No statistic reflects Tennessee's football fortunes in recent seasons more than the Vanderbilt series. It wasn't long ago — specifically 1983 to 2004 — when the Vols whipped the Commodores on 22 consecutive occasions. Now it is college football's closest rivalry of the past decade, with the two programs having gone 5-5 against one another and having scored 273 points apiece.

A generation ago, Tennessee's rivalry with Florida was second to none nationally in terms of importance.

Again, use the freedoms this country provides and establish a clean slate for Tennessee football. If the 2021 season brings more of the same, then that can be flushed as well.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.

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