Butch Jones Faces Toughest Challenge of His Football Coaching Career This Week

Mark HancockContributor IIISeptember 11, 2013

Butch Jones In Charge On Rocky Top
Butch Jones In Charge On Rocky TopJim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Tennessee head football coach Butch Jones, by all accounts, has been a big hit on Rocky Top since his arrival in Knoxville after the firing of Derek Dooley.

His incoming 2014 recruiting class is ranked tops in the nation by some, he is 2-0 in his job on The Hill and has won championships everywhere he's been in charge.

Moreover, Jones seems to connect with his players. They appear to be more disciplined and give far more effort than they did last season. He seems to not only be able to tell his team what to do but to show them by example, the mark of a true leader.

Jones faces the biggest challenge of his coaching career this Saturday afternoon when his Big Orange Volunteers travel to face the Oregon Ducks, ranked second nationally, on the road.

Jones' quest to rebuild the UT program and build a foundation for the future will receive its first big test.

It doesn't get any easier for Butch and his team next week either. They face another tough test on the road in The Swamp against their nemesis, the Florida Gators. That game is even more important in a lot of ways. Not only from a rivalry standpoint, but because it is Jones' first test as Tennessee's coach in a big Southeastern Conference game on the road.

Following that, the Vols get a respite of sorts with South Alabama at home as their next opponent at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, a venue that Jones appears to have mastered to some extent with his opening wins over Austin Peay and Western Kentucky.

After that, though, a tough grind of seven consecutive SEC games remain.

The two teams that were expected to battle for the Eastern Division crown, Georgia and South Carolina, are the first two opponents of October, albeit with a welcome open date in between on the grueling slate.

Right after those two games at home, Tennessee has to go on the road again to play defending national champion Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

If they can survive October, they will have gone through what some have called the most difficult college football schedule in America this season.

The last four games that are on tap include Missouri on the road for the first time in the program's history, Auburn and Vanderbilt at home and Kentucky on the road after Thanksgiving.

They will determine the success or failure of Jones' first year in charge.

Most fans have said they will be happy with a 6-6 record for this team. A 7-5 outcome would be outstanding. A bowl win on the top of either would be better than the Vols recorded for the last several years and would build hope for better days ahead.

For now, optimism abounds that Jones is the man to return Tennessee to championship contention again, something that has always been their usual place among college football's elite. Happier times in Big Orange Country are hopefully ahead.