The Tennessee Volunteers learned a difficult lesson during their recent stretch of disappointing seasons — the Vols can no longer rely on their past to help build toward the future.

Which is why Tennessee must begin writing a new chapter in its illustrious history with a win in next week’s TaxSlayer Bowl against Iowa, giving future recruits a sign the Vols are on their way to the top of the SEC.

Tennessee’s program still has plenty working in its favor, including one of the largest stadiums in America, membership in one of the richest conferences in the land and its proximity to a number of prominent recruiting hotbeds throughout the southeastern United States.

But one thing it can no longer use as a selling point is its tradition.

To clarify, no one has taken away any of Tennessee’s long list of achievements throughout its more than 100 years of football history. Fans will forever be able to cherish those memories, and they should. After all, that’s what being a fan is all about.

With that said, no future prospect will ever be able to fully appreciate those past successes, and they certainly won’t be making a decision about their future based off what UT did in past generations.

Think about it: Every high school prospect in the nation ranges between 14 and 18 years old. Here’s how old they would have been the last time Tennessee achieved the following benchmarks:

  • Won a bowl game — 2008 — 8-12 years old
  • Won more than 7 games in a season — 2007 — 7-11 years old
  • Won an SEC/national championship — 1998 — 0-2 years old (current freshmen and sophomores weren’t born yet)

Current prospects might remember the 2008 Outback Bowl, although without UT allegiance that game could have easily been lost in the New Year’s Day shuffle.

It’s just as unlikely those prospects recall the Vols 10-win season in 2007, and it’s virtually impossible any current high schooler recalls any part of the ’98 season without a history book or a documentary of some sort.

Potential recruits simply won’t appreciate Tennessee’s history the way it once did. The Vols need to begin writing a new chapter in their history, one that will impress the nation’s best prep stars.

No, a win over Iowa will not suddenly equal Tennessee’s history of championships, All-Americans and Hall of Famers, but it would certainly be a start. A win in the postseason shows this team is capable of growing back into the power it once was.

And although high school recruits won’t recall much of UT’s football history, the part they will recall includes plenty of losing. To see the Vols win a bowl game against a power conference opponent will resonate with those recruits as a step in the right direction. That’s huge, even if it doesn’t seem like it.

UT will have to build from this year’s bowl appearance, and it’ll need to reach a better bowl game next year than it did in this year’s return to the postseason. But it is already writing the beginning pages of a new chapter of its football history, and that chapter will ultimately decide where this program heads in the coming years.

Traditional powers like Tennessee, Michigan Nebraska, etc. are no longer traditions of excellence; they’re once-great programs falling behind the times in the 21st century. Those programs still lean on their brilliant histories in aiming to recreate that success in the present. That’s not how the world of modern college football works.

Tennessee, however, is not settling for its past accomplishments and instead is making moves to write its own future. A win against the Hawkeyes would be huge toward that effort, and if the Vols return to prominence in the SEC East, this is the season fans will point to as the turning point.

These are indeed the first pages of a new chapter of Tennessee history. The Vols will have plenty of writing to do when they take on Iowa next week.