The 2016 expectations all offseason from the media and fans started with Tennessee winning the SEC East – something it was picked to do at SEC Media Days in Hoover in July, and a very realistic standard given the amount of talent and experience UT had, and the overall mediocre state of the division.
Tennessee won its battle on Saturday, but lost the war.
Approximately 650 miles away, LSU couldn’t punch in a fourth-and-goal from the 1 that could’ve given the Tigers the lead over Florida with just seconds to play. The sting of that Florida loss took some air out of the stadium as fans, undoubtedly, kept refreshing their phones and spread the news throughout Neyland.
An LSU win would’ve set up UT to just need the win over Mizzou and then a victory in Nashville next week over Vanderbilt to punch its ticket to Atlanta.
Jones and the players said they weren’t aware of what was happening as Florida put the finishing touches on that game during the second quarter of UT’s eventual win over Missouri. And whether that’s completely true or not, it was commendable that the Vols didn’t get distracted on their way to a strong second half and a 63-37 victory.
Asked if being eliminated from SEC East contention made the Missouri win bittersweet, Jones downplayed the importance of winning the division, saying that being 1-0 every week has been the only goal this season.
“You never heard me talk about it,” Jones said. “Never heard the players talk about it. Our goal is to be 1-0 every week, and what happens happens. Again, I’m not going to sit in here and complain. We just won eight games, and that hasn’t been done here in a long time. We have an opportunity to win nine. Obviously we have strong expectations for this football program, but right now, I’m going to talk about the win and talk about our seniors and how far our football has come.”
And in a sense he’s correct about all that. The program has come a long way and still has a chance to show tangible progress this season. Tennessee can win nine regular-season games for the first time since 2007, which is also the last time the Vols got to 10 total wins in a season. Even the Sugar Bowl, a New Year’s Six Bowl, is still in play for the Vols, depending on how the next couple weeks unfold.
Being 1-0 is all Jones can do on a week-to-week basis, but that goal also exasperates the frustration that fans have about the poor performance the team had at South Carolina that ultimately took the East out of UT’s hands and cost the Vols a chance at a trip to Atlanta. As many fans pointed out via social media, Tennessee was a very costly 0-1 that week.
It seems that both are true – Tennessee can be happy for the chance to some progress, while also being disappointed that there will be no true championship for this highly-anticipated 2016 squad.
That’s just not the way that Jones chose to look at it following Saturday’s win.