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NOTHING RHYMES WITH ORANGE: DeJa Vols

If you're feeling like you've seen this episode before, you have.

New season. New cast. Same plot.

The Vols in 2012 came out and blasted a pair of opponents, and blasting the vibes through the roof. As week three approached, it felt certain that the long winter was finally thawing and Tennessee Football was waking up to continue it's rich history of winning. ESPN College Gameday even came to town, for what truly felt like the end of the Vols' seven-year skid against rival Florida. The vibe was so thick and believable, in fact, that Knoxville seemed transported to the late-'90s, the morning of Tennessee vs Florida.

We had turned the corner. And then we hadn't.

Game three's collapse against Florida on national television sent the air rushing out of the team and fanbase and it never returned. All the coaches got fired and the stars went to the NFL.

And now, in 2013, another first three games have come, with two more exciting wins and a gut-slashing defeat on the national stage.

Keeping the wind in the sails of Tennessee's fans and team has seemed harder and harder as winning big games has gotten further and further in the rear view. Tennessee has won only one of their last 24 match-ups with ranked teams. It has left us with what Jones calls an "infestation of losing." He says that winning and losing are both habits. And just like any habit, the more you lose, the worse the habit gets.

And now, Butch Jones can flip the script. His first chance to change the pattern comes against the same Florida team that sent Derek Dooley's downward spiral as Tennessee's coach into high speed. The importance of not allowing the team and fanbase to flatline in the wake of what happened in Eugene, the team's worst defeat since 1910, cannot be understated.

It was widely agreed-upon that Tennessee could continue energizing its fanbase by simply going to Oregon and keeping it respectable. That did not happen.

Tennessee faces another chance to break Florida's ownership of the rivalry, and no amount of depth issues, youth, or "focusing on the process" will register for Tennessee fans this Saturday when the Vols take the field in The Swamp. Those issues are not eight years old.

When Butch Jones took the job, he inherited a Tennessee that is as passionate and manic as it is unforgiving and damaged by the last five years. This game against Florida, process be damned, is a critical chance for him to deviate from last year's (and the last and the last year's) plot. Does that mean the trip to Florida is a must-win for the first-year coach? No. But. In order to maintain the momentum he has built from excellent recruiting and public enthusiasm, Coach Jones has got to make some kind of vivid statement, starting no later than Saturday, that sets him apart. The script is only going to get harder to flip from here.


NOTE: Saturday's storyline will be spiced up by the fact that, due to underwhelming (at best) performances by Justin Worley in each of the first three games of this season, Tennessee now has no official quarterback, and Offensive Coordinator Mike Bajakian said this week that the starting QB against the Gators may not be decided until after pre-game warm-ups. The coaches seemed to truly want Worley to be the one, but if you need big plays to win in the SEC, it is a no-brainer to look elsewhere to fill the position. Couple that major question-mark in Tennessee's personnel with Florida's unbelievably tough defense, which has only allowed two conversions on 3rd down ALL SEASON and Saturday starts looking even more... interesting.

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