One of the age-old traditions in politics is to play the "expectations game" in the run-up to an important debate. Oftentimes, that entails talking up your opponent's oratorical skill or charisma, making sure that everyone knows that he or she is a master debater. Other times, the goal is talk about how rusty or unimpressive your candidate is, so that if he or she strings coherent sentences together on the night of the debate, he or she won.
Which brings us to Butch Jones' presentation at SEC Media Days. It's not that Jones predicted doom for Tennessee in 2014; it's that he gave listeners all the information they needed to predict doom and then allowed them to connect the dots. For example:
For us at Tennessee, we're a little bit different. We're not at the norm in terms of having to replace a third of our football. We're having to replace almost half of our football team.
This year half of our roster will be brand‑new. ...
But we are still going through the realities of building a college football program. We're the only school in the country that has to replace both starting interior lines, both offensively and defensively. We have to replace our entire kicking game.
This was not part of Jones' answer to a question, mind you. He offered these comments up front, during his introductory remarks, when he could just as easily have spent the time doing a Will Muschamp-style recitation of the depth chart or found a number of other things to talk about. This is the message Jones wanted media members to take away from Hoover.
He also called Utah State "a great opponent," which is the kind of thing you would expect from Lou Holtz, the master of managing expectations. What about Florida? The Gators are a talented team, Jones said, then pivoted.
But for us, we can't even look down that path right now. We have to focus on day one of training camp, really worry about ourselves in terms of the process, focusing on the process and the journey that we're about right to embark on.
The players got in on the act -- or perhaps the earnest reflection of the future -- as well. Mack Crowder, one of the offensive linemen who will man the reconstructed front, said that the Vols expect to win just like everyone else. But then he was asked where the team was in relation to where it needs to be, and his answer would have floored Tennessee fans of a decade ago.
I know that our goal is to get a bowl game, and I believe that's where we need to be. Especially, right now with a young team. Coach Jones has said it before, I believe, 50 percent of our team, it was the first time going through spring ball.
Defensive end Curt Maggitt didn't even go that far in talking about what the team was aiming for.
We've got a lot of young guys. We're not going to overwhelm them talking about big goals for the whole season.
That's not to say that Tennessee really is doomed this year. Sometimes, you manage expectations to conceal the fact that your side is actually pretty good. Other times, you do it because they're not very good, and you don't want the fan base to get angry at what is a foreseeable outcome. We'll find out soon enough the reasons for Tennessee's efforts to frame its season as one where fans shouldn't hope for too much.