The honeymoon period is over for Butch Jones. The Tennessee Volunteers (2-1, 0-0) were given a harsh dose of reality by No. 2 Oregon (3-0, 0-0) last week. Following the 59-14 thumping, it’s pretty clear that though they’re better than last year, the Volunteers are not back in the mix as a team ready to compete for SEC or national titles. But that doesn’t mean Jones isn’t leading the program in the right direction.
It just means we’re really not sure which way this team is going. And I’m not even talking about the reopening of the quarterback competition by Jones earlier this week. He said whichever of the Vols’ four quarterbacks has the best week of practice will start in Saturday’s SEC opener. The overarching point is this: Tennessee needs a clear sign that things are getting better, something that has yet to be revealed this season.
What to look for in Week 4: An indisputable sign of change. It was a bit premature to glorify the new era of Tennessee football after wins over Austin Peay and Western Kentucky. But so, too, is it unfair to think Jones isn’t taking the program in a positive direction following the 45-point blowout loss to Oregon, even though it was the Vols’ worst loss since 1910. At this point, it’s really hard to gauge where this team actually is in terms of recovering the program’s lost glory. But ending an eight-game losing streak to No. 19 Florida (1-1, 0-0) this weekend will be an unmistakable sign that things are getting better on Rocky Top.
Furthermore, Tennessee also has lost its last 17 games against ranked opponents. The Vols are 1-23 versus Top 25 teams since 2008. So yes, a Week 4 win over the Gators is a clear sign that Tennessee football is moving in the right direction under Jones.