The Tennessee Vols entered the season with the goal of reaching Atlanta to play for an SEC Championship.

As the season progressed, Tennessee’s goal shifted a bit. After debuting at No. 1 in the first College Football Playoff rankings of the season, the Vols’ goal grew to include a national championship.

Unfortunately for Tennessee, neither of those goals are in reach anymore.

The loss to Georgia knocked the Vols out of Atlanta and the loss to South Carolina this past weekend all but eliminated Tennessee from the College Football Playoff conversation.

UT, however, still has a lot to play for. If Tennessee finishes the season with a win against Vanderbilt, and if LSU loses to Georgia in the SEC Championship game, the Volunteers could still end up playing in the Sugar Bowl for the first time since 1991.

And that’s something that’s important to this team.

“We know that we still have a chance to play for a New Year’s Six bowl,” said Vols defensive lineman Omari Thomas on Monday. “And that’s a big thing for this program.”

“That’s still a big bowl game for us,” added Thomas. “That’s still something that we’re looking forward to. We just have to go out there this week and handle business against Vandy. And just let the chips fall where they fall and hopefully we get a chance to play in a New Year’s Six bowl”

I’m sure the disappointment of not reaching the playoff is still fresh for Vols fans. And they probably don’t want to hear about a New Year’s Six bowl after seeing a chance for a national championship slip away.

But it’s extremely important this Tennessee team finishes the season the right way. After starting 9-1, the last thing the Vols want to do is lose their final three games of the season to finish 9-4.

Tennessee still has a chance to win 11 games and that’s something that every fan would’ve signed up for before the start of the season. But to get to 11 wins, this team will have to be motivated and ready to go against Vanderbilt and later in the bowl game.

Based on Thomas’ comments on Monday, it sounds like there’s plenty of motivation to finish the season strong.

Featured image via Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports