KNOXVILLE — After a gauntlet of four straight games against Top 20 teams, Tenenssee gets a bit of a respite this weekend on Rocky Top.

The Volunteers taking on South Alabama with a chance to clinch a bowl game in the first season under Josh Heupel and make no mistake about it, things are trending up in Knoxville.

Yes, the Vols lost three of those four games to SEC heavyweights, but they went right down to the wire with the Rebels, had the lead in Tuscaloosa, beat Kentucky and then lost an early lead to number-one Georgia.

Learning lessons for UT in the always tough SEC.

“That’s why you want to be here. You want a chance to have the ability to compete against the best, and then go beat them. Certainly, that’s the bar in this conference and for us with our schedule,” Heupel said.  “That’s the challenge our kids and I wake up to every day. We go compete and keep pushing forward. We’re in a race to get there as fast as we possibly can, but we will.”

Tennessee kicks off at 6:30 Saturday against South Alabama.