Maybe it's just lip service but they say they can. They insist a winning record means something, even if it's barely a winning record. And they insist a bowl bid is meaningful, even if it's in a city they visit every other season.
"I don't think I've ever had a losing record, so being 3-5 is definitely a new feeling for me," senior guard Cody Douglas said. "It was unexpected but it's here and I'm dealing with it. I'm going to close out the season the best I know how."
Asked if a winning record and a minor bowl bid really are significant incentives, Douglas nodded emphatically.
"Oh, yeah," he said. "As an athlete, you've got to have that personal pride to pick the pieces back up, avoid a losing season and get into a post-season game. You have to want to do that for personal pride, if nothing else."
Clearly, Douglas is determined to salvage whatever he can out of a season gone sour. The question is: Are his teammates on the same page?
"I definitely think so," he said. "If they're not, somebody needs to go talk to ‘em as soon as possible. For us to win out these last three and get to a bowl game, everybody's going to have to want to do it. It's definitely not going to be easy. We'll have to come to play in all three games."
Head coach Phillip Fulmer noted that 2005 has been "a very challenging season," but is confident his troops will give their best effort today against Memphis, next Saturday against Vanderbilt and the following Saturday against Kentucky.
"Our team is very anxious to play again, to get on track," he said. "We have three games left to put ourselves in a bowl game. That's a good goal but mostly (we're playing for) the pride and respect of this football program. It's very important that we finish well.
"We've won lots of games around here, and will again, so this three-game stretch is very important."
Still, the Vols have got to be disappointed. They expected to spend November competing for the SEC championship and a BCS bowl bid, not looking to avert a disaster. Fulmer sees lots of frustration in his players but sees no sign of surrender in them.
"It would be a concern if our guys weren't playing with effort and emotion but they are," he said. "I've not seen any quit in this football team."