Between 1989 and 2004, Tennessee never won fewer than eight games in a season. A handful of conference titles, one national championship, and a four-year record of 45-5 were sprinkled in there. Heck, the last back-to-back championships won by an SEC school took place in that span, too.
So it's no wonder Vol fans are a little restless following four consecutive losing seasons. Six of UT's last nine years have ended with more losses than wins. And Tennessee hasn't lost fewer than four games in a season since 2004. Bluntly, the Vols have gone from Rocky Top to Rocky Bottom.
With a top 10 signing class joining Butch Jones' second squad, expectations are sure to rise a bit. But Jones is doing his best to remind everyone that his team is young and his schedule is hard.
Going through ESPN's "Car Wash" of radio and TV shows yesterday, Jones had the following to say about the both issues:
"We have to be ready to start right from the get-go and be game ready. The first three opponents are bowl champions. They know how to win. For us, 50 percent of our football team will be going through their first collegiate season. So, we have to focus on winning every moment."
Tennessee opens with Utah State and Arkansas State at home before traveling to Big Ten favorite Oklahoma. Fans understand that a trip to Norman could be brutal for such a young team (a team that also happens to be the only squad in the country replacing every starter along both lines). Utah State and Arkansas State, however, don't have brands that many take seriously. In this case, they should. Both schools are projected to finish near or at the top of their respective conferences.
Jones has a tough mission ahead of him. Big Orange supporters are flat tired of losing and even though he's only been around for one season, the onus to turn things around quickly is now on him. He's inherited the sins of Derek Dooley, Lane Kiffin and Phillip Fulmer. But a hotshot recruiting class and a schedule that's tougher than the names on it suggest could create unrealistic expectations for some.
So expect to hear Jones' repeat the statements above numerous times between now and the end of August.