OK, settle down. Don’t overreact.

Tennessee (3-3) is not going to beat No. 1 Alabama next Saturday. The Crimson Tide are on their way to becoming one of the best teams in the history of college football. UT fans should be entertained if the Vols have any semblance of hope in the third quarter. That being said, hope springs eternal.

So do the Vols’ bowl hopes.

After UT loses to Alabama on Saturday, the rest of the schedule seems much more manageable. The Vols will only face one team ranked in that span, No. 18 Kentucky.

The Vols will face South Carolina (3-3) after Bama. There is no reason to think that UT can’t compete with the Gamecocks, who lost to Texas A&M on Saturday. Suddenly, South Carolina’s fortunes have changed. The Gamecocks had preseason hopes of winning the SEC East. Now, that seems much like the Vols’ last opponent whose hopes have dissipated. Inspiration is a powerful thing.

After that, the Vols should pick up an easy win when they host Charlotte. Absolute worst-case scenario, the Vols have 4 wins with three games to play. Then, things could get interesting. Tennessee will face Kentucky and Missouri at home followed by a (road) trip to Vanderbilt in Nashville.

Kentucky has proven to be an SEC East contender and a tough, physical team. The Cats are No. 3 in the SEC in rushing with 223 yards per game. If UT gives up the Kentucky norm, the Vols will lose.

The following game against Missouri will have some intrigue as former UT head coach Derek Dooley returns to the UT sideline as Mizzou’s offensive coordinator. However, it’s tough to imagine the Tigers at their best with their head coach on the hot seat and Dooley at the offensive reigns.

The difference between UT and the other teams they’ll face is simple. Tennessee’s upcoming opponents had more lofty goals. The Vols were hoping for a chance to play in a bowl game.

I know it’s hard to imagine, but the Vols could actually make a bowl game despite the early despair of the season. Forget about the losses to top foes like West Virginia, Florida and next week’s game against Alabama. Remember the good times, i.e. Auburn on Saturday.

Tennessee’s win over Auburn on Saturday should be celebrated. It broke an 11-game SEC losing streak. However, UT finally winning a conference game isn’t the ultimate goal. Auburn, like any SEC opponent, should take notice when facing the Vols.

Tennessee has been a used hazmat suit for too long. The Vols aren’t ready to win any sort of title just yet, but they are ready to compete. These Vols have proven that. Jeremy Pruitt told us that weeks ago, before many believed.

Now plenty believe.

There’s no way to accurately forecast how UT will finish the season, but the Vols have given their fan base hope.

Suddenly, 6-6 seems reasonable, realistic and more than respectable. Even better, it also feels like just the start.