After a gauntlet of a schedule the Tennessee football team is coming off a much needed bye week.
In 10 weeks the Vols faced seven ranked opponents, with just one bye week in the middle of the stretch. After a week of some much needed rest and recuperation they will return for their final two games of the season, and needing victories in both to receive a bowl bid.
Tennessee hasn’t gone to a bowl game since former head coach Derek Dooley’s first season. They lost in overtime to North Carolina in the Music City Bowl which led to the first of their three consecutive losing seasons over the recently departed coach, who was let go one year ago today (Nov. 18).
First up for the Vols will be in-state rival Vanderbilt, who just clinched their bowl eligibility after defeating Tennessee’s final opponent of the year, Kentucky, one week ago.
Head coach Butch Jones’ main concern isn’t with matchups on the field this week, rather it’s the emotions of his departing seniors who will run through the “T” for the final time in their tumultuous careers at the University of Tennessee.
“You always guard against the emotional factor as a coach,” Jones said. “We don’t want an emotional football team, we want a passionate, energetic football team.”
This group of seniors has had one of the more difficult collegiate careers out of anyone to play college football. The ones who redshirted their freshman year have now played for three different head coaches, which in turn means they’ve also played for multiple position coaches over the years.
While the seniors want to go out on a good note, and shine in the Neyland Stadium spotlight one final time, coach Jones will be there to constantly remind them to focus on the task at hand.
“I think sometimes seniors plan their last home game forgetting the task at hand,” Jones said. “They’ll be able to reflect back when it comes February. So right now, we have a great challenge ahead of us.”
Jones is hoping to finish his first year on Rocky Top better than his inaugural season finished as head coach of Cincinnati. The Bearcats finished 4-7 in Jones’ first year at the helm, but after that were led to back-to-back 10-3 seasons and co-champions of the Big East.
From day one after arriving in Knoxville, Tenn. Jones’ No. 1 priority has been to bring Tennessee back to a glory, and step one is to get them back to a bowl game. In order to do so, and win the final two games of the season, he’ll have to make sure his team can keep their emotions in check.