Tennessee's Cortez McDowell returns an interception during Saturday's 55-0 win against Tennessee Tech at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville.
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Mark Wiedmer

Perhaps because the University of Tennessee's historically front-loaded football schedule has so often allowed for warm, fuzzy late-autumn memories and plenty of painful reasons to forget the games that came before them, former Volunteers coach Johnny Majors used to say, "They remember what you do in November."

Perhaps that's also why, after three straight losses to close October, current coach Butch Jones said of Saturday's 55-0 homecoming win over Tennessee Tech to start this November in style: "I talked about winning the week this week and going 1-0. We're 1-0 and moving on to the next week."

That's 1-0 in a November that should eventually make them 9-3 and representatives of the Southeastern Conference's East Division in the league title game the first Saturday of December at the Georgia Dome.

And should that happen — should the Vols win their three remaining regular-season games against Kentucky this Saturday, Missouri the following week and Vanderbilt on the Saturday after Thanksgiving — it's almost inconceivable that Florida will knock off South Carolina this weekend in Gainesville and win at LSU the following Saturday to win the East.

When you're humbled 31-10 at Arkansas — which the Gators were this past weekend — there should be no way you can emerge from Death Valley with a win. Then again, how many folks thought Mississippi State would beat Texas A&M two days ago? Attempting to go 1-0 on any given Saturday isn't as easy or certain as it used to be.

That's not to say we learned much about these Vols post-Jalen Hurd, other than the fact that they would appear to be a prohibitive favorite to win the Ohio Valley Conference if they wanted to drop from the Football Bowl Subdivision to the Golden Eagles' Championship Subdivision.

Yes, they looked unbeatable against Tennessee Tech, but most any SEC team would. In fact, given that Kentucky has lost 30 of its past 31 games to the Big Orange and Vanderbilt is basically playing with only two-thirds of the three parts of football — having apparently elected to see how many games it can win without an offense thanks to its sterling defense and special teams — it would seem only the Vols can beat the Vols until they reach either the SEC title game, a bowl game or both.

But what will the Big Orange Nation will think of this season upon its completion? One reader emailed me Sunday morning wondering if the Vols might consider pulling a Unaka High School by forfeiting the SEC title game, because it's hard to imagine them avenging their earlier 49-10 loss to expected West champ Alabama.

Though Vols linebacker Corey Vereen had not heard that particular argument early Saturday evening, he did observe: "People talk. We don't listen."

These Vols do listen to each other, however, especially in the wake of Hurd's hasty departure last week.

"Communication," said linebacker Cortez McDowell. "We had to get everything back to the beginning. From energy and passion to loving each other, it all went back to what we had when we all got here together as a group."

Forget Coach Cliché's canned answers and refrigerator-door slogans. McDowell's words are what has always seemed best about Team 120, win or lose. The players have always seemed to genuinely like each other, and they've always seemed remarkably good young people in a team sport not always given to that.

"We have had a tough three weeks prior to this game, so we just had to understand what was in front of us and get back to what we were doing at the beginning of the season," McDowell said. "We went back to just having fun."

For their fans, fun would be returning to the SEC title game for the first time since 2007. But fun is also measured differently by different people.

For Tennessee Tech coach Marcus Satterfield, the former University of Tennessee at Chattanooga assistant who also was once a graduate assistant for the Vols, just playing at Neyland Stadium was both fun and helpful for his current program.

"We can take a big check, and we can go home," he said. "We understand it was a fun experience for us. We competed at the highest level of our profession of what we do in Division I football."

And with the calendar having turned to November, the Vols are back to playing at their highest level, hopeful to create even bigger memories in Atlanta the first weekend in December.

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