Looking at the UT football schedule as a whole prior to the season, a clear distinction existed between the months of October and November.
As the calendar flips forward over this week, that distinction is gone.
The Associated Press top 25 poll released Aug. 17 placed UT's October opponents – Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama – in the top-6. But it appeared the Vols would get a break in November with games against Missouri, Auburn, Vanderbilt and Kentucky, all unranked in the preseason.
Instead, Missouri and Auburn – UT's next two opponents – are a combined 14-2 and both ranked higher than South Carolina and Georgia in the current BCS Standings, meaning November brings little relief for the 4-4 Vols, who need two wins to become bowl eligible.
"The only way to do it is you put your head down," Jones said Monday, "and you keep working to get better each and every day."
Vanderbilt (4-4, 1-4 SEC) and Kentucky (1-6, 0-4 SEC) provide some alleviation at the end of the month, but UT left tackle Antonio "Tiny" Richardson expressed no desire to settle for a 2-2 November, which would be enough to earn the Vols a bowl berth for the first time since the 2010 season.
"That's been our goal since the offseason, to go to a big-time bowl game," Richardson said after UT's loss to Alabama on Saturday. "And if we can win these next four, we can go to a pretty good bowl game, and that's the goal right now, is just to snap and clear and win these next four."
When the Volunteers travel to Columbia, Mo. for a 7 p.m. battle with No. 9 Missouri, the Tigers (7-1, 3-1 SEC) will be fighting to remain in control of the SEC East.
Below them, three teams have two conference losses, meaning the East's representative in the SEC Championship on Dec. 7 is far from decided.
On the other side, No. 11 Auburn, who the Vols play on Nov. 9, is the closest competition in the SEC West to No. 1 Alabama in the race to the SEC Championship.
So the Vols have ample opportunity to add to the turbulence of the conference in an already crazy year.
"All we want to do is be able to get to a bowl game, be successful, win games and do good things for Tennessee," senior defensive end Corey Miller said Saturday. "It's out there. It's the goal. It's exactly what we want; we know what we want and we know how to get there.
As for the method to do that, fellow senior running back Rajion Neal said trust in UT's first-year coaching staff is key.
"It just all goes back to coaching," Neal said. "You've got to keep believing in those guys and just stay close as a team and keep anything negative out of sight and out of mind."
Richardson promised a win against Missouri, which would align with Jones' assertion that the next step for UT is winning on the road.
UT is 0-3 away from Neyland Stadium in 2013.
"We've got four games down the stretch, and it would be really nice to win these four," Richardson said. "People always remember what you do in November."