This is going to come as a huge surprise to y’all …

I don’t think the Vols are winning the Southeastern Conference this year.

It is a conference title drought that started in 1999. Tennessee hasn’t won the SEC East since 2007.

To many Vols fans, that means they haven’t won anything of significance in 13 years (and counting).

Sorry, Butch Jones, I don’t see any “Battle at Bristol” banners hanging in Neyland Stadium, and the “Champions of Life” pennant must be on back order with Nike.

The final month of the college football season is always a tough one for coaches whose teams are out of contention. Seniors might check out, start thinking about their futures in the pros or worry about getting a job in the real world. (Note to all college seniors: Stay in school. The real world is difficult and college is awesome.) Underclassmen have been working for months and quite often are burned out and ready to go home.

Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt needs to find ways to keep his team motivated, or the last few weeks of the season could be really ugly.

It got me thinking about some of the ways this stretch can go for Tennessee that would make Vols fans feel better about the 2020 season and the future of the program.

1. Play Harrison Bailey … a lot

We know that Jeremy Pruitt wants to win games right now, and he believes that Jarrett Guarantano gives the Vols the best chance to be victorious.

But this thinking is flawed.

Obviously, it would be great for Tennessee if Guarantano led the Vols to an upset victory over rival Florida, the biggest game left on UT’s schedule. But does anyone outside of the Guarantano family believe that is going to happen? No. No, they do not.

The Vols will be underdogs against Auburn, Florida and Texas A&M. They’ll be favorites against Vanderbilt because Vanderbilt is … how can I put this delicately … awful. They are awful. Tennessee’s most likely final record is 3-7.

I think we have seen enough from backups Brian Maurer and J.T. Shrout to know that they aren’t the long-term answer for the Vols. So what harm is there in handing the reins to true freshman Harrison Bailey?  He’d get 4 games of much-needed experience, and there should be no pressure on him because Tennessee is only playing for pride.

It would serve as an audition for Bailey, and it would let Pruitt know if the Vols will have to get incoming 4-star quarterback Kaidon Salter ready sooner than later if Bailey flounders.

And let’s be honest.  Vols fans would get their biggest wish in seeing Bailey on the field for most of a game.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

2. Pull off an upset

Yes, I know I said that the Vols won’t be favored against Auburn, Florida or Texas A&M. But that’s what makes an upset an upset!

The Vols’ 2 wins have come against South Carolina and Missouri, not exactly the type of victories you put at the top of promotional materials. But if the Vols can somehow beat the Tigers, Gators or Aggies, that would be a sign that, yes, there is potential on this roster, and maybe they aren’t that far away from making some noise in the conference.

Remember, Tennessee did upset Auburn back in 2018. Pruitt knows that program fairly well from his time as Alabama’s defensive coordinator.

Stranger things have happened.

3.  Take some chances

When you have nothing to lose, there’s no reason to play conservatively.  Pruitt is more than willing to go for it on 4th down.  He has done so 16 times already, converting 10 times. But would it be so bad for offensive coordinator Jim Chaney to take a few risks as well?

With the postponement of the Texas A&M game, Tennessee basically gets a 2nd bye week. Maybe they can use that time to open up the playbook and have some fun?

I don’t think that’s asking for much …

4. Climb in recruiting rankings

For a while this spring, the Vols were firmly ranked in the top 5 nationally for the Class of 2021.  Earning verbal commitments from 5-star linebacker Terrence Lewis and 4-star defensive end Dylan Brooks back in April helped this class greatly, as did the Salter pledge in May.

But since then, the rest of the nation (and SEC) has caught up. Accordingly to 247 Sports, Tennessee is currently ranked 10th nationally and 5th in the SEC. The Vols are still looking up at Alabama, Georgia and Florida.

If the Vols can close strong and jump a couple more spots, fans would enter the offseason with at least a little more optimism for the program.