Co-written by David Bradford
Odom: Although I think both head coaches and programs take a giant step forward with a win on Saturday, a Tennessee win would almost certainly cement Butch Jones’ status as the Vols’ coach for the next five years or more. Tennessee is 0-24 against AP top-10 teams in the past decade, with the last win coming against No. 9 Georgia in 2006. Not only that, but Tennessee just won its first road game over a ranked opponent under Butch Jones (0-8 previously). If the Vols manage to pull off two in a row — against No. 8 Texas A&M, who currently tops the SEC West, no less — Tennessee would have all the momentum in the world heading into a colossal matchup against top-ranked Alabama. If Tennessee uses that momentum to beat ‘Bama… are we talking an undefeated season for the Vols?
Bradford: As Donald Trump would say: Wrong. Both Jones and Kevin Sumlin face drastically different circumstances. Although Jones is expected to bring the program back to the national prominence it experienced in the 1990s, all the fan base wanted this year was wins over Florida and Georgia. While a win over Texas A&M would mean a lot to the program, the Vol fans aren’t expecting Tennessee to come out of Kyle Field with a win. Sumlin, on the other hand, is a victim of his first-year success at College Station. In 2012, the Aggies went 11-2, winning games over Alabama on the road and in dominating fashion against Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl. But over the next three seasons, the Aggies went 25-14 and were outscored by the Crimson Tide 149-65 in three losses. Tennessee is heading in the right direction, while one could argue Sumlin hasn’t led Texas A&M forward after his success in 2012. With a loss to the Vols and Alabama looming on the horizon, Sumlin’s seat becomes scorching hot.
Odom: I think that’s a fair point, but while a loss would mean more to Sumlin, a win would mean more to Jones. Like you said, Tennessee fans don’t expect to be 6-0 after this weekend. What’s bigger than an unexpected win? The Aggies are favored by almost a full touchdown. Tennessee had high expectations for this season, but it wasn’t expected to go 4-0 through the “stretch of doom” it’s currently two games through. A win likely puts the Vols in the six or seventh position in the AP Poll with Alabama coming to town. If that happens, Tennessee is undefeated with just one more real challenge left in conference play. More importantly, the Vols would be looking at just one conference loss on the season. If Tennessee beats A&M, the Vols are all but going to Atlanta as SEC East champions. A&M still has a bit of work to do towards Atlanta even if it beats Tennessee.
Bradford: It would be an unexpected win, but I’m viewing this comparison from the job security angle. A loss wouldn’t do anything to Jones’ job security. The same can’t be said for Sumlin. For the third-consecutive season, the Aggies are 5-0. In each of the last two seasons, they’ve dropped their sixth game by at least 17 points. In addition, Texas A&M has been dreadful at home against ranked opponents, going 2-6 under Sumlin in those situations. Both coaches have a ton to gain with a victory on Saturday, but Sumlin simply has more to lose.
Edited by Dalton King
Featured image by Sumner Gilliam