Arkansas Have Shown Why They Should Be Feared

Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Arkansas is the second best team in the conference.  Yes, 6-4 Arkansas.  Florida fans can cry all they want, but as I believe and many other "experts" do as well, the Razorbacks would be the favorite to win a head-to-head matchup.  No one wants to play them right now.  

"When you come play Arkansas, I want you to know you're in a street fight." That statement is what Bret Bielema has modeled his team around.  He's got to be given his fair share of praise for turning around a program that was in the dumps after the Petrino affair and the John L. Smith debacle. I have always been a huge fan of Bret Bielema even when he was winning Big Ten Championships at Wisconsin.  He was hired to take over a downward sliding Arkansas team in December of 2012 and hopefully bring Arkansas back to national prominence. 

He knew his task wouldn't be easy in the big, bad Southeastern Conference, and to make things worth, he would have to compete in the strongest division in college football in the SEC West. Bielema embraced the challenge and after a rough start in 2013, has turned the program around and transformed them into a physically dominant football team that knows how to win.  The Razorbacks went 7-6 in 2014 and were playing some of the best football of any team in the SEC at the end of the year.  They finished the last four games of the season 3-1 highlighted by dominant shut-out wins over LSU and Ole Miss as well as a blowout of old rival Texas in the Advocare Texas Bowl in Houston.

The Hogs entered 2015 with momentum of accomplishing bigger things but were disappointed as the Hogs were beaten by many thought were less talented teams in Toledo and Texas Tech.  They lost a heartbreaker to #14 Texas A&M but bounced back the next week with a 24-20 win over Tennessee in Knoxville. From that point on the Razorbacks have gone 4-1 with wins over Auburn, Tennessee-Martin, #18 Ole Miss, and last week's 31-14 dismantling of Leonard Fournette and #9 LSU in Baton Rouge.  The only blemish in that stretch was a two touchdown loss to Alabama in which the Hogs were competitive all game and doesn't look bad at all now compared to what the Tide have done to most opponents this year. 

Arkansas under Bielema has seemed to struggle early but finish very strong. This is the most talented team Bielema has had.  A big offseason hire was new offensive coordinator Dan Enos, who has made the Hogs more balanced and thrown in a dangerous passing attack.  They are now the 3rd best passing team in the SEC and boast the #2 offense overall in the conference.  The biggest reason for this increased production is Brandon Allen. Allen has improved exponentially as a quarterback and has changed from being basically a good game manager to being mentioned by some as the top QB in the conference.  He has thrown for 2,617 yards on the year with 22 TDs and a 64.4% completion percentage.

Arkansas' Brandon Allen Has Developed into One of the Best QBs in the SEC

The Razorbacks have legit guys at receiver this year and solid deep threats. Tight End Hunter Henry is one of the best at his position in college football and is the ultimate safety net to throw the ball to.  He is up for postseason awards as well.  Drew Morgan leads the Razorbacks in receiving with 639 yards so far this year and is surrounded by other pass-catching weapons in the forms of Dominique Reed, Jared Cornelius, and Jeremy Sprinkle.  The Hogs finally have deep-threats and game-changers at the receiver position. 

Arkansas running game took a big blow, as 2014's leading rusher Jonathan Williams went down with an injury that is forcing him to miss the 2015 regular season.  Despite this setback, the Arkansas running attack appears to be just as strong as ever.  Williams' talented partner Alex Collins was forced to step up and take the majority of the carries. He has performed marvelously. The junior running back from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, is third in the SEC in the rushing category as he has rushed for 1,209 yards and 14 touchdowns with an average of 6.1 yards per touch. Kody Walker has been a solid number two as he has rushed for 254 yards of his own. 

Whoever is in the backfield knows they have the luxury of being protected by one of the best and biggest overall offensive lines in football.  They average 326 pounds across the line and are not only adept at creating holes for their backs but protecting the quarterback.  They have given up one of the fewest sack totals in the SEC.

Alex Collins Is One of the Most Dynamic Backs in the Conference
Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports

The defense hasn't been as strong statistically as they were last season but are improving as seen in last week's domination of #9 LSU.  The Razorbacks held LSU star running back and Heisman contender Leonard Fournette to under a hundred yards and were very dominant overall.  Arkansas has been solid against the run this year but has struggled defending the pass. However, like Arkansas seems to do, they are improving in every facet of the game as the season goes on.  This unit is led by a playmaking linebacking duo of Dre Greenlaw and Brooks Ellis. Greenlaw leads the Razorbacks in tackles with 84 total while Ellis is second with 80 of his own.  

Like I said, no one wants to play Arkansas right now.  They have talent all over the field and are improving each and every week.  I think the Hogs are good enough to beat any team in the conference right now besides Alabama and are a team to be wary of in college football.  This team has been hurt by a slow start but are finishing strong.  This is why I believe the Hogs are the second best team in the SEC right now.  If Arkansas ever figures out how to start strong as well, look out college football world.  You have something to fear indeed in the team from Fayetteville. 

LSU-Bama Will be "Clash of The Titans"

"Clash of the Titans" That is what LSU superstar running back Leonard Fournette had to say about his team's upcoming visit this Saturday night (8 PM ET on CBS) to Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  T-Town will play host to a game of unbelievable magnitude in LSU-Alabama.  This game has been extremely exciting and important over the years and is developing into one of the best rivalries in the Southeastern Conference.  The first CFB Playoff rankings of 2015 were released this week, and undefeated LSU was ranked at #2 while one-loss Alabama was ranked at #4. This game will not only be one of the biggest games of the year and but will also have huge implications on the playoff. 

In my opinion, both of these teams are as talented as they've been since the 2011 meeting.  They are even better at some positions.  LSU certainly is.  Running back Leonard Fournette is an absolute freak of nature.  He is clearly the frontrunner in the Heisman Trophy race so far.  The sophomore sensation from New Orleans was the best prospect coming out of high school and was even compared to Adrian Peterson.  He certainly has lived up to the billing.  

Fournette had a solid rookie year in Baton Rouge, LA, but this year he has been unstoppable. He has rushed for 1,352 yards on 176 carries for an average of 7.7 yards and 15 touchdowns up to this point.  Leonard Fournette has had three games of over 200 yards rushing and, impressively, had 180 yards recently against a very stout Florida defense.  He is the main reason his team is undefeated thus far. In my mind, he is the best player in all of college football. 

Another reason for LSU's amazing success in 2015 is the play of Brandon Harris.  LSU's offense, under the oversight of Les Miles, has always been predicated on a strong run game.  He doesn't have to have a star at the quarterback position.  He just needs to have a guy that won't lose the game for them.  He has that in Brandon Harris.  In fact, Harris has not thrown a single interception this year.  He has managed the LSU offense well this season but will be challenged more than he has ever been against this Tide defense.  He'll have at his disposal two stud wide receivers in Travin Dural and Malachi Dupre. The Tigers also have one of the best offensive lines in the league as well.  

LSU's Fournette is the Heisman Front-runner
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

One potential Heisman candidate that has been overshadowed by Fournette is a guy that plays the same position and plays in the same division of the same conference.  That man is Derrick Henry.  Henry is an animal as well. Henry is bigger than Fournette at 6-3, 242 pounds and is very formidable.  He is a powerful back, who, when he gets a head of steam, is almost impossible to stop.  He has run for 1,044 yards and 14 touchdowns.  

Henry's stats could be better, but for whatever reason, Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin chooses to take him out for long stretches of games. Look for Henry to be utilized much more in this game against a physical LSU defense. While Henry is a big and bruising back, his backup in Kenyan Drake is a more of a finesse back.  He is another home run threat in addition to Henry.  He is one of the fastest guys on the team. He is dangerous not only running the football but also catching passes out of the backfield.  

The Alabama receiving corps was dealt a huge blow when they lost Amari Cooper to the NFL last year but have fared pretty well this season despite being a position of question before the season started.  The group is led by one of the top breakout freshman in the country in Calvin Ridley.  Ridley has caught 45 passes for 525 yards and 3 scores.  He is surrounded by other receiving talent including ArDarius Stewart, Richard Mullaney, and TE O.J. Howard.  

The man who is expected to get it in their hands is quarterback Jake Coker.  The QB position was one of concern for Alabama this year, but Coker has stepped up to the plate.  He really solidified himself as the full-time starter in the 38-10 dominating win earlier this year over Georgia in which he went 11-of-16 for 190 yards, a touchdowns, and zero interceptions.  While Coker has by and large been very good, he is also prone to mistakes and has been inconsistent at home especially.  He has thrown seven interceptions this year to eleven touchdowns, which is obviously not a stellar ratio.  This is the game where he can prove that head coach Nick Saban and the Tide can trust him when the game is on the line and that he truly is a championship caliber quarterback.  

Linebacker Reggie Ragland Leads Alabama with 71 tackles
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

On defense, these two units are special particularly Alabama's. The Tide stop unit is nasty.  As I have said when the season started, this front seven is the best in college football.  The defensive line is nasty with 300+ pounders across the line led by guys like A'Shawn Robinson, team sack leader Jonathan Allen, and Jarren Reed.  The linebacking corps is captained by Reggie Ragland, who leads the Tide with 71 tackles. One of the biggest improvements for the Crimson Tide is their secondary.  It has been a glaring weakness the last couple of years, and that is why Mel Tucker was brought in to coach the defensive backs.  He has done an outstanding job with this group. The Tide are now in the top five in the SEC in pass defense.  

The Alabama defensive backs are responsible for eleven take-aways. Eddie Jackson leads this unit with five interceptions but is complemented nicely by veteran safety Cyrus Jones, Ronnie Harrison, as well as freshman breakout Minkah Fitzpatrick. The defense as a whole has been excellent.  They are the top defense against the run, and their overall defense is #1 in the SEC and one of the best in the country. 

LSU's defense is not too shabby either. They boast a top 20 defense in the country and are very stout against the run. Defensive end Lewis Neal leads the Tigers in sacks with seven total. Behind him in the linebacking corps is two guys in Deion Jones and Kendell Beckwith that lead LSU in tackles.  The secondary is talented, but the stats have not really stood out so far.  Good news is that star safety Jalen Mills is back after an injury that made him miss the first six games of the year.  

This game features two outstanding teams and will be the biggest game of the year thus far.  Leonard Fournette has been running away with the Heisman so far but will face his biggest test against the best defense he has played against in 2015 and maybe his career. Slowing Fournette down will be paramount for this defense, and Kirby Smart's defensive squad needs to force Brandon Harris to beat them.  

On offense, the Tide must unleash Derrick Henry, as he looks to make a statement in this game for the Heisman as well.  He needs to be better utilized and get more carries in Lane Kiffin's offense. He probably will be used more against LSU in a game that is always centered around running the football. Jake Coker is surrounded by weapons and can spread it out to guys like Ridley, Howard, and Drake. He just has to quit making mistakes, which has been a problem particularly at home. 

For LSU, they must put pressure on Jake Coker and make him uncomfortable. They have to get penetration to not only blitz Coker but to stop Henry before he gets started.  The LSU offensive game plan is simple. Keep doing what they are doing.  I do not know if anyone can stop Fournette this year, and LSU is blessed with having a solid offensive line. At some point however, Brandon Harris will be called on to make a play.  Can he do it?

LSU-Alabama has been a very exciting and an important game over the years. The 2015 edition will be no different.  It will be a battle of the trenches and a very physical game that will not only likely determine the SEC West Champion but will have a huge effect on the CFB Playoff as well. Saturday night will see an electric Bryant-Denny Stadium hosting a primetime showdown between two teams in the top four of all of college football.  The game is shaping up to be a classic and will certainly be a "Clash of the Titans."

Follow me on Twitter: @legitjaydawg


Alabama Should Be Wary; Aggies Want Revenge

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

If you like college football, then you will want to be near a TV this weekend that is for sure.  This Saturday, many exciting games will take place throughout the nation, and one of the most intriguing matchups of the weekend is #10 Alabama (5-1) vs. #9 Texas A&M (5-0).  The Tide rebounded from an early season loss and head into College Station, Texas, with the belief that they can run the table and once again reach the CFB Playoff.  The Aggies are undefeated thanks to a high-powered offense and an improved defense under John Chavis.  Last season, Alabama embarrassed Texas A&M, 59-0, in Tuscaloosa.  This is a new year, and the Aggies have this game circled.  

Saban's troops come into College Station, Texas, with an early season heart-breaking loss to Ole Miss at home. The Tide then rebounded two weeks later with a resounding, 38-10, win at then #8 Georgia.  As I have previously said, Alabama has the best front seven on defense in all of college football with guys like tackle Jonathan Allen, end A'Shawn Robinson, and linebacker Reggie Ragland terrorizing opposing offenses.  Their defensive line is big and nasty.  It is extremely difficult to run up the middle against the Crimson Tide.  

Just ask Nick Chubb and Georgia.  Granted, Chubb had over a hundred yards but got most of his yards in garbage time.  It was impressive.  Last week, Alabama held a physical Arkansas team to only forty-four yards on the ground despite the Razorbacks being known for its strong rushing attack and having a massive offensive line.  It is really hard to win games in the SEC being one-dimensional on offense, and that is what Kirby Smart's unit forces many teams to do.  The secondary is not to be overlooked as it appears to be a solid unit as well this season.  

On offense, running the football is the bread-and-butter of this Crimson Tide team and has been a big reason they have been so successful over the years.  Derrick Henry is an animal and one of the biggest and most powerful running backs in the country.  Kenyan Drake is his backup and can be used in multiple ways including at running back, at slot receiver, and on special teams. Drake is fast and explosive and probably the best overall weapon on this offense.  Calvin Ridley has definitely made an impact in his freshman year with the Tide as he has led them in receiving thus far in 2015.  Other viable receiving options are wide receiver ArDarius Stewart, WR Richard Mullaney, and TE O.J. Howard, who finally seems to be living up to his potential.  

Derrick Henry Is The Focal Point of the Bama "O"
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Quarterback was a big question mark for Alabama in the offseason and continued to be a position of concern in the regular season.  Jake Coker is definitely the starter and has played extremely well at times but has also been inconsistent.  As always in football, the quarterback position is so important, and Jake Coker cannot have a bad day.  He does not have to make all the plays.  He just needs to limit his mistakes and put it in the hands of his playmakers.  In other words, he is not the ship; he is just the captain.  

Texas A&M could provide some big problems for Alabama on Saturday afternoon.  For one thing, Kyle Field has always been loud and crazy, and the 12th Man truly makes this one of the best atmospheres in the nation.  Add to that it was just renovated to hold more people, and you got one of the most intimidating places to play in college football.  But make no mistake, the team on the field is REALLY good too. 

Most people did not know exactly what to expect from Texas A&M in 2015.  Everyone knew the offense would be very good, but the main weak link for this Aggie team has been their defense, which has been awful the last several years.  Sumlin made the right call and hired John Chavis from LSU to take over this defense.  He has done an outstanding job in such a short time in College Station and showed why he is one of the premier defensive coaches in the country.  He has made the defense respectable and even really good at times, which is a huge improvement over last season.  

Chavis' best weapon on this defense happens to be the best defensive end in the SEC and probably the country in Myles Garrett.  Garrett is a nightmare for offensive lines off the edge, as he possesses huge size and quickness.  He broke Jadeveon Clowney's Freshman SEC Sack record last year and is not looking back.  In fact, he leads the conference with eight sacks this season.  It is just not fair for opposing offensive lines.  Combine that with opposite end Daeshon Hall having a very good 2015 as well as other critical players contributing, this Aggie defense finally has some bite to it.  

Garrett Is a Freak of Nature
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

But what truly makes this team dangerous is their offense.  The unit has been stellar, and Kyle Allen has built on his potential as a freshman and become one of the top passers in the SEC.  He has got a very strong arm and has already thrown for over 1200 yards.  He is also a very accurate passer and seems to be smart with the football.  

The biggest strength of this team is the receiving corps, which has to make Allen happy.  It might be the best group of pass-catchers in college football.  Their leader is surprisingly a first-year player in the electrifying Christian Kirk.  Kirk is developing into one of the best offensive playmakers in the SEC.  But Alabama cannot afford just to focus on him, as A&M also has on its roster last year's leading receiver Josh Reynolds, Ricky Seals-Jones, Speedy Noil, and Damion Ratley.  The Alabama secondary is going to have a tall order of covering these guys, and I certainly do not envy them.  

Running the football has been a weakness for Texas A&M the last several years, and everyone knows that if any team wants to have consistent success in the SEC, they have to be able to run the ball.  The Aggies have sought to do that this year and Tra Carson has provided that spark.  Do not be deceived though, the passing attack is still the hallmark of this offense.  

This Texas A&M offense is hard to stop, but if anyone is capable of doing it, it has to be Alabama.  The keys for a victory by the Crimson Tide are to establish the run with Derrick Henry and keep pounding it.  This will take pressure off Coker. Coker and Alabama cannot turn the ball over, as they have been known to do this year.  This offense will make the opposing team pay.  On defense, the Tide have to have a balance of  continuing to stop the run but also cover the talented Texas A&M receivers. They cannot give up the big play.

For Texas A&M, they need to try to run the ball on Alabama.  Running it up the middle can be a tall task, so the Aggies should throw in sweeps and other outside runs to try to keep their offense from solely relying on Allen's arm to move the chains.  The biggest advantage against Alabama is the Aggies' superior passing game and spread attack.  A good spread offense tends to give Alabama problems, and Kyle Allen is the perfect guy to run it.  He has got to spread the field and hit his many different receivers and keep the Tide defenders on their toes. Chavis' defense needs to dial up the pressure on Coker and hopefully force him to make mistakes.  The defense also needs to get penetration to try and stop Henry.  

Overall, this game should be a dandy.  This game has been circled by Texas A&M since last year's stinging loss, and Nick Saban will have his Alabama team ready.  This game will have significant implications in the SEC and nationwide, and we should all have a much clearer picture of the state of these two teams after Saturday's showdown.   

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Forget ND-Clemson, Alabama-UGA Is Game of the Week

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

It's Week 5 in college football, and what a season it has been so far! On paper, it looked like last weekend might have been kind of a quiet one in college football.  Man, was I wrong. Saturday was highlighted by #4 TCU miraculously avoiding an upset by unranked Texas Tech, Tennessee inexplicably losing a 12th time in a row to a supposedly rebuilding Florida team, and Utah absolutely destroying 2015 CFB Playoff Runners-Up Oregon.  This week, College Gameday heads to Clemson, SC, for #6 Notre Dame vs. #12 Clemson a.k.a the perceived game of the week.  Seriously though, the biggest game this Saturday will begin a few hours earlier in Athens, GA.  

Athens will play to host to one of the most anticipated games of the season in #13 Alabama vs. #8 Georgia at 3:30 PM EST on CBS.  Nick Saban and his Alabama Crimson Tide certainly have their backs to the wall after suffering a, 43-37, heartbreaking loss in the third week of the season to then underdog Ole Miss.  They can't lose another game as they will essentially be eliminated from reaching the College Football Playoff, and a loss severely damages their chances of winning the SEC West.  However, all is not lost for the Tide.  They can do exactly what they did last year after losing to Ole Miss - win out and get back to the CFB Playoff.  And remember, Nick Saban's teams always seem to be the most dangerous when many count them out.  

Make no mistake, Alabama is dangerous.  They are supremely talented with NFL guys all over the field.  Their front seven on defense is absolutely ridiculous.  They are one of the best stop units in the nation.  The defense is especially dominant in the run game; (It helps having one of the most intimidating and most talented defensive lines in the country.)  They have only given up an average of 56.8 yards per game on the ground.  Any team will be hard pressed to run the ball on Alabama and being one-dimensional against the Crimson Tide is typically a recipe for disaster.  The secondary is the only soft spot on this defense for the Tide and opposing teams have to try to exploit that.  

Quarterback is the biggest question mark for Alabama.  Jake Coker has been pretty good at times but has also been very inconsistent.  The play of Coker will be critical to how the Tide fares against a good Georgia team.  He doesn't have to do too much because of the talent surrounding him.  He just has to play smart, limit mistakes, and, above all, not turn the ball over.  The Tide's game plan should revolve around Coker's extremely talented backfield mate in stud running back Derrick Henry.  Besides not being the size of a normal human, Henry has bruising power and great speed for his massive frame.  When he gets started, Henry is beyond difficult to stop.  

Kenyan Drake is the lightening to Henry's thunder as he is a speedy, versatile player, who contributes running the ball, as a receiver, and in the return game.  The Tide have capable receivers led by ArDarius Stewart, talented freshman Calvin Ridley, Robert Foster, and surprise contributor Richard Mullaney among others.  The top receiving weapon this year has been tight end O.J. Howard, who is finally having a season that many thought he was capable of.  This Tide team is ultra-talented on both sides of the ball and still appears to be one of the best teams in the country.

Coker's play is one of the keys to a Tide victory.
Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

The home team is not that bad either.  Georgia has not played that difficult of a schedule yet but have still looked impressive.  The Alabama game will serve as the perfect test to see if this Georgia team is legit.  The offense is loaded, especially in the backfield.  If any team can run on Alabama's stingy rush defense, it has to be the Bulldogs. They have a top offensive line paving the way for arguably the best and deepest running back corps in the nation led by one of the best backs in college football in Nick Chubb, who is a perfect blend of power, elusiveness, and speed.  His greatest quality has to be his vision.  He is backed up by Sony Michel, who might be the best overall playmaker on this offense.  He is one of the fastest guys in the team and is a weapon taking handoffs from the backfield, in the slot, and on special teams.  Another part of his game that hasn't been talked about much is that he appears to be stronger and more powerful in 2015 after a full offseason in the UGA weight room, and it's evident on the field.  Michel might be the most key offensive piece because he not only can run inside but also possesses the speed to break it outside where Alabama is not as dominant. 

The group of the receivers is pretty darn good.  It is headlined by leading receiver Malcolm Mitchell, who appears to be finally back to his 2012 self before struggling with injuries for a long time.  He has seemed to develop nice chemistry with new quarterback Greyson Lambert.  After a so-so game against Louisiana-Monroe in Week 1, to a bad game against Vanderbilt, to a record-setting day against South Carolina, and solid play last week against Southern University, the UGA fans have to feel pretty good about their quarterback play, which was a question for a long while.  Then again, Lambert has not faced a defense like Alabama brings to the table.  

Georgia knows how to play defense too.  Jeremy Pruitt is undoubtedly one of the best defensive coordinators in the country.  He commands one of the top defenses in the nation led by a linebacking group that might be the best in college football with the three-headed monster of Jordan Jenkins, Leonard Floyd, and Lorenzo Carter.  Let's just say, they know how to make an opposing quarterback uncomfortable.  The secondary play has improved in 2015 as they boast the #2 pass defense in the SEC.  This defense is fast and athletic, and it's one of the best in the country.  

The keys for both teams in this game is simple.  For Alabama, they need to establish the run with Henry, limit quarterback mistakes, and NOT TURN THE BALL OVER.  Kirby Smart's defense has to put pressure on Lambert and force him into bad throws.  The defensive line needs to be keying on stopping Nick Chubb and the Georgia run game.  Above all, the Tide can't beat themselves.  

For Georgia, big games have been a curse as of late.  They need to do what they do best - run the ball and feed off of that with play action.  They have to be balanced against Alabama if they want to win.  The vaunted linebackers of UGA also have to blitz Coker and attempt to make his day miserable, and the defensive unit has to hope to slow down Derrick Henry.  

The primetime matchup of the week might be Notre Dame vs. Clemson, but the biggest game in my mind is Alabama-Georgia.  A win for the Tide would restore confidence and get them back on track to competing in the SEC.  A victory for Georgia would mean a lot to this team.  Mark Richt and his staff can not only prove they can win big games, but a nice "W" against Alabama will cement this team as a true playoff contender.  

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For Jones & UT, Florida Game Is A Must-Win

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Tennessee has to beat Florida this weekend if they want to make their dream of reaching the SEC Championship a reality.  Granted, it is a long season, and the SEC East has not been as strong as in past years, but UT and Head Coach Butch Jones need this victory.  The Oklahoma loss two weeks ago was discouraging especially considering the Volunteers surrendered seventeen unanswered points late in the game, which was the largest deficit a team has come back by in Neyland Stadium.  However, losing to the Sooners was not that costly in the big picture.  

However, it gets real this weekend as Tennessee opens conference play this Saturday in Gainesville, Florida, as they take on the Florida Gators.  The Volunteers need to get a "W" this Saturday for multiple reasons.  First, it is a pride thing.  Tennessee has not beaten Florida in ten years.  It has certainly been lopsided as of late. One of the most head-scratching and frustrating losses was the 2014 edition in which the Vols lost in Knoxville to a bad Will Muschamp-coached Florida team, 10-9, in Knoxville.  

Coming into this game, Tennessee is the more talented team particularly on the offensive side of the ball.  This is a game they should win, but the Volunteers still have to prove it.  A victory against their rivals in the Swamp would be just what the doctor ordered as they still have the sour taste of losing to Bob Stoops' Oklahoma lingering in their mouths.  It would be a huge confidence boost for this team.  

Another reason is for Butch Jones himself.  Butch Jones was hired in 2013, when the football team and the fans in Knoxville were at an all-time low.  Who could blame them either? They had suffered through Lane Kiffin's departure after one season and the abysmal Derek Dooley years.  Jones was still not the first choice, but promises of building Tennessee back up "brick by brick" to the success they had experienced during the glory years made the Volunteer faithful happy.  Combine that with landing a couple of phenomenal recruiting classes, finally reaching and winning a bowl game last season, and being picked to win the SEC East by many experts, the buzz around the program is the loudest it has been in quite a while.  

Despite the new life and talent Butch Jones has been injecting into the program, one thing needs to happen.  The Volunteers have got to start winning.  No, do not bring up wins over a bad South Carolina Gamecock team and a mediocre Iowa team in the Gator Bowl last year as "signature wins."  For all the talk and hype of the Vols by their fans and the media, Jones and his team have to prove it on the field.  A win against Florida does not necessarily mean Tennessee is back just yet, but it shows the team is going in the right direction.  

UT Will Open Its SEC Slate Against Florida in the Infamous Swamp a.k.a Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Florida.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Volunteers also have to win this game to cement themselves as true SEC East contenders.  Losing to Florida again would not usher in the Apocalypse and the Vols could still technically somehow get to Atlanta, but let's be honest here.  Unless, Tennessee can beat a Florida team that is not near where it used to be with a new head coach in Jim McElwain, a super shaky offensive line, an inexperienced offense led by freshman quarterback Will Grier, they are simply not good enough to represent the Eastern Division in the conference title game.  Either that or Florida turns out to be sensational, but barely beating East Carolina two weeks ago would hardly suggest that.  

A win against the Gators would not only help team morale, but it would also serve as a stepping stone towards the ultimate goal of reaching Atlanta for Tennessee.  Butch Jones, like most coaches would, has sought to downplay the importance of this game as just any other, but it clearly is not.  This game has been said by some to be the most pivotal one of the Butch Jones' era in Knoxville and a must-win if this program wants to get back to being the Tennessee people once knew and loved.  The game in Gainesville might look like just any ordinary game to the outsider looking in, but to Butch Jones and his Vols, that could not be further from the truth.  

Follow me on Twitter: @legitjaydawg