The sign said “The end is near.”

The bearded man was carrying it along the sidewalk. I assumed he was a religious zealot, warning us of things to come.

My second thought was he might be a Tennessee football fan.

Based on that possibility, I tried to decide what is almost over. The way the Volunteers looked Saturday, they are unlikely contenders for the East division championship of the Southeastern Conference. I do believe that race was over before it started.

The way the Vols looked Saturday, they will be hard pressed to achieve one of those mediocre 4-4 records against league foes, the kind we have grumbled about in seasons past.

The way the Vols and Georgia looked on Saturday, they are speeding in opposite directions. Continuing on this course would make the upcoming collision a potential mismatch. Against Mississippi State, the red dogs appeared talented, crisp, organized, enthusiastic. The Vols, against lowly UMass? Not so much.

If Butch Jones had seen the end-is-near sign, he probably wouldn’t have given it a second thought. He has a safe and sound contract that encourages administrative patience. He has scored better than average in recruiting. He has a fierce determination to succeed. He said he and his staff would start Saturday night to make corrections, to make things better.

Being somewhat cynical about coaches in the fifth year of reconstruction projects, I wondered why he had not made necessary adjustments in August – or in spring practice.

The Vols have beaten themselves once and almost three times with mistakes. They have again suffered strange and untimely injuries that exposed their lack of developed depth. We saw this same stuff last year.

Wait a minute, my bad. Wrong path. It was my fault for not seeing this UMass thing coming. The Vols lost a game at Florida they know they should have won. They reviewed errors and were told to move on.

UMass was at an advantageous spot on the schedule. Butch couldn’t get his team’s attention in practice. There wasn’t much to gain by looking at video. The Minutemen had lost to College of Charleston and Old Dominion by 10 points each. Nothing to fear. We are Tennessee.

Orange fans were no help. By the thousands, we looked past UMass to Georgia.

Tennessee fans were a handicap on Saturday. Half the inflated numbers at the stadium went away at halftime.

Could be the Vols themselves were looking ahead. There is something to see. The Bulldogs beat Notre Dame in South Bend. The Bulldogs mashed Mississippi State. Ouch!

Back in the summer, I wondered if Georgia was as good as it thought. We do know Georgia was dreaming big dreams. The pre-season hype highlights were called “Believe.”

I was surprised to see the stunning 2016 Tennessee Hail Mary spliced in as part of the show, a reminder of what could have been. If you thought the Bulldogs might have forgotten, they haven’t.

Neither have we. It was a historic moment in this spicy rivalry. Georgia faithful rose to ecstasy and plummeted to agony in 10 remarkable seconds. It was a joy to behold.

Some of us couldn’t believe our eyes. The Vols were 5-0 for the first time since 1998. Some got all excited and forecast great things to come. That was another of my mistakes. In fact, what followed changed the way we look at the Butch Jones era.

Despite five fumbles and two interceptions, the Vols rallied from a 21-point deficit at Texas A&M. They failed to complete the miracle. They lost in two overtimes.

Tennessee crumbled at the feet of Alabama.

It wasn’t easy but Tennessee, favored by two touchdowns, found a way to lose at South Carolina.

Tennessee defeated Kentucky but the Wildcats set a record, 443 yards rushing, most ever against an SEC opponent.

The Vols walloped Missouri, 63-37. For consolation, the Tigers shredded Tennessee’s defense for 740 yards. Absolution for Sal Sunseri? Maybe not. We can hope.

After Missouri, things got worse. Vanderbilt romped.

After four September games, do you think these Vols are much the same, better or worse? I think Butch has a problem. I think we have a problem. I sure hope the end is not near. Been there for endings and start-overs. Some are not fun.

Marvin West invites reader reaction. His address is marvinwest75@gmail.com

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Written by Marvin West