In college football, it's nice to have a recruiting pitch. Few coaches have perfected theirs as well as Tennessee head coach Butch Jones. The Vols' head bricklayer has been selling Tennessee in a phenomenal way since he took over in December 2012, promising recruits a winning future once they helped build the program "brick by brick."
But over the past few weeks, the highly-praised, beloved-by-the-fans coach has lost steam. His philosophy, which he refuses to change, has not worked in year three thus far. As most have heard by now, Jones's Vols have led every game by at least 13 points, yet their record stands at 2-3. The now-matured, prized recruits landed by Jones and his staff can't seem to find that winning tradition they were sold.
Coming into this season, Jones's job seemed like one of the safest in college football after he reunited former players, raised academic standards and recruited better than any Tennessee coach in recent memory. Yet now, after only three losses, and as I predicted in August, the wheels have fallen off. Tennessee is currently regarded as one of the most disappointing and embarrassing programs in the country because of all the leads it has blown.
For Jones to right the ship, his team absolutely must beat Georgia Saturday. Some would have considered Florida and Arkansas must-win games, but neither really was, simply because of the fact that there were other opportunities remaining. But at this point, Georgia truly is a must-win because those opportunities have dissipated. And if there is any team Tennessee is due to beat, it isn't Florida. It's Georgia. The Vols have been on the cusp of beating the Bulldogs since 2011. They lost by eight that year, by seven in 2012 and by three each of the last two seasons.
For Tennessee, a win over the 'Dawgs would put them at 3-3 heading into the bye week. The Vols' players and staff would probably agree that a bye week will be welcomed, as it will give Tennessee a chance to regroup and re-evaluate things. Also, it will provide time for injured players to work their way back into the lineup. If the Vols beat Georgia, Jones will have his second win over a ranked team and 3-3 won't look so bad.
However, a loss will likely put an end to any hope Vol fans have of a good season. With Alabama looming as a likely loss in the near future, Tennessee can't afford to lose to Georgia. Going into Lexington on Halloween, 3-4 would look way better than 2-5. This game against the 'Dawgs could be the difference in an outside shot at 8-4 vs. 7-5, 6-6 or even worse. Can you imagine how the fan base will respond if Tennessee misses out on a bowl game with all the talent it has on the roster?
Right now, Tennessee just needs momentum. They need a win, a quality win, badly. The Vols are clearly talented enough to win games. They likely won't be blown out by any team, even Alabama. But there comes a point in time, regardless of a team's youth, that fans just get tired of hearing empty promises. Vol fans are rightfully upset right now, because it is year three for Jones and his team isn't winning. They are obviously better than they have been over the past two seasons, but progress needs substance.
A win over Georgia would provide substance to Jones's promises and it would reinforce the legitimacy of his plan. If it happens, he will be able to look back and point to Oct. 10 when Tennessee won a huge game in Neyland Stadium. But a loss, on the other hand, will probably silence the opportunity for the Vols to get a quality win this year. Jones needs this one, not only for his team's momentum, but for his salesmanship to future Vols.
It couldn't possibly come at a better time.