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NOTHING RHYMES WITH ORANGE: Forget Everything

With four opponents in the rearview, the Tennessee Volunteers are sitting exactly where the most realistic minds had imagined, with two wins and two losses.

Doesn't matter.

Heading into Saturday's game against lesser-than South Alabama, the Vols are likely to come out of it with a not-guaranteed, but probable, third victory. That will put the "magic number" at three more wins before returning to bowl eligibility after two consecutive seasons with no post-season opportunities. Would be exciting.

Doesn't matter.

The Vols' October schedule, affectionately called "The Death March" by fans. The live premier of the new uniforms. The quarterback uncertainty. The extraordinary 2014 "Legacy" recruiting class. The phantom of SEC relevance.
 
Forget everything.

Since arriving, Butch Jones has (with maniacal repetition) insisted that players, fans, coaches, analysts, recruits ignore everything and focus on the process. Jones walks into each media session, each public appearance, with a sort of vacant composure. I genuinely believe that he knows that there is really only one opponent on Tennessee's schedule in 2013.

And that opponent is the University of Tennessee.

Conquering what Jones calls an "infestation of losing" is paramount. Fans have been beaten and polarized on a yearly basis. The past five years--for a program as (for better or worse and realistic or not) proud as the Big Orange faithful--have been pure, unparalleled hell. Stretching from the unraveling of Phillip Fulmer, Kiffingate, the fall of the Kentucky winning streak, all the way to this past Saturday, in Gainesville. Tennessee fans endured the worst statistical half of quarterback play in program history. At one point, it was a stunning FIVE YARDS and FOUR TURNOVERS across six possessions. Worse, it was a quarterback change that fans begged for, bored with Justin Worley's inability to generate sexy, highlight plays.

And while UT's coaches agree that you cannot compete in the SEC without it, the ability to generate "splash plays" couldn't keep us from ending our five-year losing streak against ourselves. Ask Derek Dooley. His teams at Tennessee, despite an abundance of embarrassments, were more than capable of generated big, sexy plays.

The only way to defeat the University of Tennessee, as we have come to know it, is extraordinarily unsexy. And slow. And calculated. And requires (insert brick metaphor).

In that way, Justin Worley's play at quarterback reflects Tennessee's needs almost perfectly. It is cautious and conservative. It doesn't, or hasn't--or maybe even can't-- swing for the fence on most plays. But it can manage. In the swamp, Worleyball may not have quite been enough to overcome the talented but terminally flawed Gators, but there is no question that Worley could have managed better than poor Nathan Peterman, who was simply not ready for the moment.

So forget ego, bowls, highlights, and stars. Tennessee has had those, and could not use them to stop this epic skid. Those things (without the unsexy/healthy tendencies that Jones and company are currently force-feeding fans and players) are a sugar-only diet that has rotted the team and the fan base for half a decade.

Forget South Alabama. Forget the Death March. Forget Kentucky and Vanderbilt.

With the team in an all-time slump, it desperately needs the passion of its massive fan base. Just the same, a polarized and damaged fan base desperately needs something to come alive for. And while Tradition is such an important part of Tennessee football culture, there quickly comes a time when fans need to turn off their 1998 DVD and realize that in 2013, there is a football team that sees the bald-spots in the stands: the half-to-mostly empty student section. There is a widespread mentality of "wake me up when we start winning again" that is reflected across every single message board and call-in show.

Until Tennessee football exterminates the "infestation of losing," it may as well forget who they are lined up against. It will continue to defeat itself before the T is ever opened on a Saturday. 

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