The Tennessee Volunteers 2013 season was a contrast between old and new. With a new head coach and a team of veterans, the result was a disappointing 5-7 result and an absence from bowl season for the third consecutive year.
The 2014 season is a contrast of 2013: while head coach Butch Jones has a year of experience under his belt at the helm of Tennessee, the Vols lose a more than half of their starters on both sides of the ball.
By his own admission, last season was a learning experience for Jones, joining the SEC after three seasons at Cincinnati. While the Vols won four games at home, their only victory on the road came in the season sendoff at Kentucky.
“The thing that people don’t realize across the country is it’s the most competitive conference we know, but they have to go on the road and win games in all the hostile environments and venues you have to go into,” Jones said at SEC Media Days. “And that’s what’s separates these teams, the ability to go on the road and win.”
With a victory over South Carolina marking the only victory against top 25 competition in 2013, the expectations are for further improvements at Tennessee. Ohio State and Tennessee are the only two programs is college football to have never lost eight games in a season, and although the Vols play a difficult schedule, the emphasis is on returning to previous pride.
“The standards, the expectations, the foundation is in place,” Jones said. “Our players understand how we’re going to play winning football and the standards and expectations which we just spoke about. But, the challenge for us is usually, everyone is optimistic—rightfully so. Everyone is 0-0. But what makes college football different is that each team you replace about a third of your roster. At Tennessee, we have just a little less than half which are new players.”
Not a single player returns to start on the offensive or defensive line, and Jones has set now timetable for a decision on who will play quarterback between candidates Justin Worley and Joshua Dobbs. Youth can serve as a challenge to breaking through in a conference like the SEC, but Jones is optimistic that the newcomers will rise to the occasion.
“It’s going to be a great challenge, but also it’s a tremendous opportunity. That’s what makes college football exciting. Every year, it’s new opportunities for individuals, and I know our offensive and defensive lines are players in our program who are excited about it. But also, it’s a great sell in recruiting. You’re going to have an opportunity to come to Tennessee and play early and play right away.”
Tennessee opens the season against Utah State on Sunday August 31. The Vols visit Oklahoma in the season’s marquee non-conference matchup on September 13, then have one week off prior to starting the SEC slate between the hedges at Georgia and at home against Florida on October 4.
To hear more from Tennessee head coach Butch Jones, click below.