You don’t go into a fast food restaurant expecting prime cut steak.
And you shouldn’t go into the first year of a new coach’s tenure expecting instant success.
After an uninspiring 2-1 start to the Josh Heupel Era, a painful truth is sinking in for fans whose expectations ran unrealistically high during the preseason.
Heupel does not have any magic dust he can pour onto Tennessee’s dilapidated roster, and the Vols are likely to lose decisively this week against Florida.
However, if you can accept another painful truth, this season may still be worth watching.
This season is not about wins and losses.
The goal of this season is simply to lay a foundation for greater success in the years to come.
Having been told this four times in the past 12 seasons, the well of patience has understandably run dry for much of Vol Nation.
But what is the alternative to accepting this unpleasant reality? Rage tweeting through another loss to Florida? Pinning your hopes on an unlikely upset of Alabama or Georgia?
Yes, it sucks that UT finds itself in this situation again. And yes, that the situation is completely of UT’s own making only makes it more miserable to endure.
Realists will understand, however, that the true measuring stick games come after this week.
Tennessee has the talent to compete at Missouri. South Carolina looks to be in worse shape than the Vols, and that game will be played in Knoxville. Ole Miss doesn’t look like a team Tennessee should expect to beat, but the Rebels may be the model for the type of turnaround Heupel is hoping to achieve.
For all the media love Lane Kiffin got last year, his first squad only managed a 4-5 regular season record. Still, they established an identity and now look like a formidable SEC team.
If you ask most Tennessee fans if they would be happy with what Ole Miss has right now, the portion of the fan base with a functioning brain would say “Absolutely!”
The naysayers will point to Matt Corral’s emergence as a potential Heisman contender and say that UT doesn’t have a quarterback like that they can build around.
Perhaps not right now, but with the ever more transient nature of college football, Heupel will have more options to look at in the transfer portal after the season.
Expectations should increase in Heupel’s second season. But for now, the hope of competing with the SEC’s elite is unrealistic.
What to make of Pitt’s loss to Western Michigan Saturday? It really just underscores what a missed opportunity that game was for Heupel and the Vols.
A win and a 3-0 start probably don’t dramatically change the outlook for the Florida game. But it would change perception and have fans more excited about the direction of the program.
If Tennessee has another opportunity for a win against a decent opponent (Ole Miss or Kentucky), it can’t let the opportunity slip away.