Butch Jones, Bret Bielema & When Losing Isn't Really Losing

Arkansas' not getting any closer to the promised land. But what about Tennessee? - Kevin C. Cox

New coaches at Tennessee and Arkansas claim they are laying the foundations for programs they expect one day emulates Alabama. To achieve success against Nick Saban in Year No. 1, though, a win isn't necessary.


Like every other under sports pundit under the blessedly-no-longer-as-scorching Arkansan sun, I wrote my take on Arkansas' 52-0 immolation against Alabama last week. Looking toward the east for commiseration, I couldn't help but dive into the similarities between Arkansas and Tennessee at this juncture under their new coaches:

Arkansas fans are getting sick of it. They know their program isn’t some chump SEC program like Kentucky or Vanderbilt. Yes, it’s been a rough last year and half, but its fans still expect so much because the program used to win so much – three SEC West titles since 1995, and the nation’s 10th-highest winning percentage in the 1960s through 1980s.

Arkansas fans are not alone in their predicament. Look at Alabama’s next opponent -Tennessee – another historically proud program which in recent years has assumed the role of easily digestible protein source for Saban on his relentless pursuit of gridiron perfection. For this man, football is far less a form of play than it is an outlet for mind-numbing consistency and precision.

Case in point: Alabama has beaten Tennessee by exactly 31 points in each of the last three seasons. But those losses transpired in the Lane Kiffin and Derek Dooley eras – errors for which an increasingly large swath of Volunteer faithful believe a solution has been found in potential savior Butch Jones. It’s Jones who has Tennessee off to its best start in six seasons and rolling after a 23-21 win last Saturday over No. 9 South Carolina, the Vols’ first win over a ranked opponent since 2009. "We’re trying to get Tennessee back where it needs to be," Vols offensive tackle "Tiny" Richardson told The Tennessean afterward. "I think we took the first step to getting there."

Like Bielema, [Butch] Jones sees in Alabama a model and benchmark for his own future dynasty. "Their program is what we are building here at Tennessee," Jones said. "It is based on competition, it is a competitive environment every day when you walk in there; that is what we are building here at Tennessee."

Arkansas fans heard the same kind of words from Bielema all off-season, but they will have a hard time believing them again until the gap is narrowed against the SEC opponent which has come to loom over all the rest.

At the bottom of the article, which you can read here at Sporting Life Arkansas, I polled Arkansas fans on how optimistic they are that Bielema can get things turned around for the next game against Auburn. Turns, out more than 2/3 of the 145 respondents believe Arkansas will lose by 11 or more points against Gus Malzahn's surging team.

Since Arkansas is off this weekend, I'm extra interested in how other teams will fare in Saturday' games. Especially Tennessee, which may have the only fan base in the SEC which has felt as frustrated with their own program in the last few years (Arkansas fans' frustration is a lot more condensed to 2007/2008 and since April, 2012, while Vols fans have had more or less a steady drip of disappointment since 2007.

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