A bye week in college football is supposed to serve as a time for a team to recoup, recover, and take extra time to prepare for their next opponent after their week “off.” But the week after a bye week hasn’t been kind to Butch Jones in his time at Tennessee.
The Vols are reeling after a 41-0 rout in Neyland Stadium by No. 7 Georgia last weekend. That loss was the worst in Neyland Stadium history, and it was the worst home loss the Vols had suffered since 1905. If there was ever a time for a bye week, it’s now. Tennessee will face South Carolina in Knoxville on October 14th, and they are using this time now to prepare for the Gamecocks while they also try and figure out what’s gone wrong with the team.
But if Butch Jones’ track record on bye weeks is any indication of what will happen this season, Vol fans may be even more heated in a week and a half than they are already.
In his Tennessee career, Butch Jones’ Vol squads are just 2-4 coming off bye weeks. And that includes losing two consecutive games coming off bye weeks. Jones is one of only four coaches in school history who has coached in five games coming off bye weeks and still posted a .500 or worse record. And the other three coaches all coached before General Neyland.
Both the 2013 and 2014 seasons had two bye weeks before the NCAA switched to just one bye week per season. In 2013, the Butch Jones’ era got off to a hot start coming off bye weeks when the Vols pulled off the major upset over No. 11 South Carolina when they defeated the Gamecocks 23-21. Later that season, Tennessee had a bye week after a 55-23 loss to Auburn and before they took on Vanderbilt. The Vols needed one more win for bowl eligibility, and a loss to the Commodores would eliminate the Vols from contention for a bowl. Tennessee ultimately lost that game 14-10, and Jones’ record dropped to 1-1 off bye weeks.
In 2014, Tennessee had an extra week to prepare for Georgia. The Vols traveled down to Athens, GA and held their own for most of the game against the Bulldogs, but Georgia ultimately prevailed 35-32. After Josh Dobbs burst onto the scene in Tennessee’s dramatic overtime victory against South Carolina, the Vols had a week to heal up and prepare for Kentucky. They used that to their advantage and demolished the Wildcats 50-16 after the bye.
The last two games after bye weeks, however, have resulted in losses. And last year’s is the one that has left a sour taste in the mouths of Vol fans everywhere.
The Vols gave Alabama all they wanted in 2015 after coming off a bye week. Alabama had played seven straight games prior to that one, and Tennessee was rested and more energized after their comeback victory over Georgia. Tennessee lost the game 19-14, but they had a lead on the Tide in the fourth quarter of that one.
Last year, however, the Vols lost to a South Carolina team off a bye week. That Gamecocks team would eventually finish 6-7 on the season. Granted, injuries had piled up for Tennessee at that point, but the Vols still had a whole week to prepare, and their efforts culminated in a 24-21 loss to the Gamecocks on the road. The Jalen Hurd drama peaked in that game, and he transferred shortly after that loss.
Tennessee will be facing South Carolina off a bye week again this season. It’s the third time in the Butch Jones era that the Vols have faced the Gamecocks off a bye week, and it’s the eighth time in program history the Vols will play South Carolina off a bye. The Vols are 5-2 all-time against South Carolina off bye weeks, losing last year and in 1992. The Vols can’t afford another loss in conference play, and Jones can’t afford another loss to Will Muschamp period.
Butch Jones hasn’t had much luck coming off bye weeks over the last couple seasons. But he needs his fortune to change if he wants to salvage his job this season.