Still, it wasn't enough. With a Jan. 1 Outback Bowl date against Penn State looming, there is still something to prove.
"Always. ALWAYS," junior receiver Robert Meachem said. "But you want to have fun while you're doing it. If you're not having fun, you're going to feel bad at the end.
"We want to have that 10th win and send our seniors out in style. And we want to prove to ourselves – not to anybody else – because we don't want to leave the field thinking, 'We should've done this' or 'We should've done that.' We want to leave the field knowing we did our thing."
Senior offensive tackle Arron Sears echoed those sentiments. He's proud of the way the team bounced back from its 2005 disaster but he, too, believes the Vols have plenty left to prove as they prepare for Penn State. And he used a boxing metaphor to make his point.
"We've got one more game," he said. "You've always got something to prove until the final bell."
There's an old saying around the Tennessee football offices that "People remember what you do in November." That may be true, but they remember what you do in January even more. A lackluster bowl loss to Penn State will take some of the shine off the Vols' 2005 turnaround. Conversely, a smashing victory to finish the campaign would enable players and fans alike to enjoy the coming off-season a whole lot more.
"We feel like we had a real good season," junior quarterback Erik Ainge said, "and now we need to top it off with a positive."