In his four-plus seasons as Tennessee’s head coach, Butch Jones has led the Vols to 33 victories in his 56 games he’s coached. But how many of those victories actually count as “quality wins” when you look at them?
Jones has just a 6-17 record against ranked opponents while at Tennessee. His record over the last couple seasons against ranked teams prior to this year was better than his first two years as head coach of the Vols, though. From 2013-14, Jones’ Vol squads were just 1-11 against teams ranked in the AP Poll at the time Tennessee played them. In 2015 and 2016, however, Tennessee went 5-4 against ranked teams. This season, the Vols are 0-2 against teams ranked in the top 25 of the AP Poll.
A coach’s record against ranked opponents isn’t always what it lines up to be, however. A team can be ranked at the time but finish unranked or finish with a less-than-stellar record. So when you look at the Vols’ record against ranked opponents, how many of those wins against ranked teams ended up being as good as they looked at the time?
When it’s all said and done, only nine of Butch Jones’ 33 victories as Tennessee’s head coach have come against teams that finished with nine or more wins in a season. And of those nine games, only six were Power Five schools. And only three of the Vols’ six wins against ranked opponents under Butch Jones came against teams that finished ranked in the final AP Poll.
The Vols defeated No. 11 South Carolina 23-21 in 2013. That Gamecocks squad would finish No. 4 in the country and had an 11-2 record at the end of the year. Tennessee didn’t defeat a single team in 2014 that was ranked at the time or finished ranked in the polls, but Utah State, a team the Vols handled to open the season, did finish with a 10-4 record.
In 2015, the Vols defeated two teams who were ranked at the time they played them. Georgia was No. 19 when Tennessee came back to beat them 38-31, and Northwestern was No. 12 in the country when the Vols dominated them in the Outback Bowl. Georgia would finish the 2015 season unranked but with a 10-3 record while Northwestern finished No. 23 with a 10-3 record as well. Tennessee’s season-opening opponent, Bowling Green, also had a 10-win season, going 10-4.
Last season, Tennessee defeated Florida when they were ranked No. 19 at the time and Georgia when they were ranked No. 25 at the time. Georgia ultimately finished unranked and with an 8-5 record while the Gators finished the year with a 9-4 record and ranked No. 14 in the country. Virginia Tech was unranked when the Vols beat them in the Battle at Bristol, but they finished No. 16 in the nation with a 10-4 record. The Vols’ bowl opponent, Nebraska, was No. 24 heading into that contest but finished unranked with a 9-4 record. Appalachian State finished the 2016 season with a 10-3 record.
All of this is to say that of Butch Jones’ 30 victories at Tennessee prior to this season, only six have come against Power Five schools who finished with nine or more wins.
But how does that compare to some of the other coaches in the Vols’ division?
Jim McElwain had 19 wins as Florida’s head coach in the two seasons prior to this one. Three of his wins have come against Power Five teams with nine or more victories, and there’s also the odd case of the Gators’ win over LSU last year. LSU was ranked at the time Florida beat them and also finished the year No. 14 in the country but had just an 8-4 record. So they should still technically count as a quality win. He has three wins over teams who finished inside the top 25 of the AP Poll counting that win over LSU.
Kirby Smart has yet to get a win over a team that finished the year with nine or more wins. His best win prior to this season was Georgia’s victory over then No. 8 Auburn last season. The Tigers finished with an 8-5 record and stood at No. 24 in the polls at the end of the season. But so far this year, the Bulldogs have wins over two ranked opponents: Notre Dame and Mississippi State. Only time will tell if they finish ranked, however.
Prior to this season, 30 percent of Jones’ victories at Tennessee had come against teams with nine or more victories. But when you take out the non-Power Five schools, only 20 percent of his wins have come against teams who finished with nine or more wins. That’s better than McElwain’s 15.8 percent prior this year, however. And it’s much better than Kirby Smart’s one win against a team that finished the season ranked.
Jones may have a better record against quality opponents than some other SEC East coaches, but only six wins against Power Five schools who finished the year with nine or more wins in four-plus seasons is still very low. The 2001 Vols, for example, had four wins against teams who finished with nine or more wins in one season alone.
Tennessee typically hasn’t performed their best under Jones when playing quality teams. And that’s been even more apparent this season than in previous years.