Success is a relative term. Merely going to a bowl game is a success for one team and a given for another. Some schools expect to compete for conference and national championships; others just hope. What does that success look like at each school? Over a player’s four years in school, what is the measure of success?
Today, we look at Tennessee. If you haven’t been following the Vols for very long, you may have a lower expectation for success than the Vol faithful. The Tennessee program is one of the elite programs, not only in the SEC but in the nation. They are among the Top 10 in all time wins, have 6 national championships and 13 SEC crowns. They’ve been good.
Of course, they haven’t been that good lately. Since the end of the Phil Fulmer era success has been sporadic and fleeting. If you want to see what is expected in Tennessee, look at the end of the 1990s. 11-1, 10-2, 11-2, 13-0, 9-3. That’s what success looks like in Knoxville. But for the recent years of struggles that would be the standard. However, the last few years have instilled some patience and tempered expectations, so here they are.
Tennessee expects to be one of the dominant teams in the SEC East. Along with Florida and Georgia they expect to be one of the Big Three. They have no patience for teams that finish behind Missouri or South Carolina. For years they were an Eastern power, and they expect to be again. That means every year they expect to be in the hunt for the SEC East, and they expect to win their fair share, which is to say about 2 every 4 years.
To win at that level Tennessee must beat some of its rivals. They always play Alabama the Third Saturday in October, and that game is incredibly important to them. They don’t need to dominate the rivalry, but they do need to compete. Given where the Crimson Tide is now, that means splitting with Alabama every four years. It’s a lofty goal.
In the East, Tennessee expects the same with Georgia and Florida. Split with them over the course of four years. When those wins fall just right they’ll win the East because they don’t expect to lose to anyone else. UT has long series with both Kentucky and Vanderbilt, but don’t confuse frequency and proximity with parity or rivalry. Those games should be won every year, as should the games against Missouri and South Carolina.
In the bigger picture the Vols expect to be a nationally prominent program. They play a schedule indicative of this belief. In 2016 they play Virginia Tech. In recent years they’ve played home and home series with Oklahoma, Oregon and UCLA. They expect wins there, too. Each year they should be winning 9-10+ games. New Year’s Bowls are expected, and in the era of the playoff they don’t expect to be left behind.
The Volunteers are in an interesting position this year. The rebuilding job should be nearing completion, and the SEC East crown is clearly a goal. If UT manages to miss out on Atlanta this year, especially if they lose to Florida again, watch what happens in Knoxville. How much pressure will be brought to bear on Butch Jones? Are the expectations still as high as they once were?
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