If you’re a Tennessee fan, you’ve waited for years for the Volunteers to finally “be back”.
Based on 2015, which has been the Vols’ best season since 2007, it would appear that UT is indeed back.
The 2015 season was undoubtedly a success, even if it was surrounded with plenty of “what could’ve beens”. Tennessee blew large leads early in the season against Oklahoma, Florida and Arkansas. They even held a lead against Alabama in the fourth quarter, in Tuscaloosa, before succumbing to the Crimson Tide and Nick Saban.
If this season had been proceeded by several eight or nine seasons, then it would’ve been considered a disappointing season. Mostly because a lot of very well respected analysts and reporters had the Vols as the favorite in the SEC East.
But considering that Tennessee has only had two winning seasons since 2007, it’s safe to say that a potential nine win season in 2015 has rallied the support of the Big Orange faithful.
So where do the Vols go from here?
Well, now that Tennessee has taken a step forward and got past the seven win marker, it means that expectations will rise.
Butch Jones had an incredibly difficult task when he took over as head coach in 2012. He was faced with a roster that was depleted at the skill positions and had virtually no depth along the offensive and defensive lines. The program was being viewed in a negative light and recruiting wasn’t going well — at least by Tennessee standards.
But one could argue that rebuilding the roster and bringing excitement back to the program wasn’t as difficult as what Jones will face next.
This is no sleight to Jones, he’s done a fantastic job, but rebuilding Tennessee isn’t like rebuilding Missouri or Mississippi State. The program recruits itself. The facilities are among the best in all of college football and the tradition is rivaled by few.
Plus, Jones has had a lot of tremendous in-state talent to pick from.
What Jones has in front of him now is the real challenge.
Fans and everyone associated with the football program are now going to expect Tennessee to return to being a consistent force in college football. That’s a tough thing to do (And sometimes even if you do get it done, you still might not hold on to your job. Just ask Mark Richt or Bo Pelini).
Jones is going to be expected to win eight to ten games year in and year out.
Is the program capable of achieving that kind of consistency under Jones?
I say absolutely yes.
At times this season I was skeptical. But what sealed it for me was the way Jones kept the team together after several tough losses. It would’ve been easy to lose the team in those moments. But Jones rallied the troops and the team got better each week.
It was in those moments that I saw the kind of resiliency that it takes to build a consistent winning program.
I don’t know what kind of legacy Jones will leave at Tennessee. I don’t know if he’ll ever win a national championship in Knoxville. But I do believe that great things are in store for the program.
After all, it’s not all about national championships. Winning a national championship in college football is one of the hardest things to do in all of sports. It’s really just about winning.
And Tennessee is fixing to do a lot of winning.