Youth Can't Be an Excuse for Butch Jones and Tennessee

Barrett Sallee@BarrettSalleeSEC Football Lead WriterSeptember 24, 2015

Tennessee head coach Butch Jones
Tennessee head coach Butch JonesWade Payne/Associated Press

It's Year 3 for head coach Butch Jones at Tennessee, and apparently he has found the fountain of youth in Knoxville.

The young Vols will head on the road to Florida this weekend in an attempt to break the 10-year losing streak to one of their most bitter rivals with inexperience abound.

Jones has played 17 true freshmen through three games in 2015—the third-most in the nation behind Georgia and Army (21), according to Tennessee's game notes

"The problem we're having is that there are only 12 players on our travel roster who played in this game (at Florida) in 2013," Jones said on Wednesday's teleconference. "Half of travel roster will be making their first SEC road trip. You have to rely on the leadership that we have. We have three senior starters—the fewest in the country."

While youth is a fact of life in Knoxville, it's not an excuse anymore.

Tennessee head coach Butch Jones
Tennessee head coach Butch JonesWade Payne/Associated Press

Just look at Tennessee's depth chart for this week's game against the Gators.

Jones is starting a junior at quarterback in Joshua Dobbs, a sophomore with plenty of experience at running back in Jalen Hurd, another with plenty of collegiate experience in junior Alvin Kamara, three returning starters on the offensive line, experienced sophomore tight end Ethan Wolf, a junior wide receiver in Marquez North and either senior Johnathon Johnson or sophomore Josh Malone at the "Z" receiver spot.

Defensively, all four starters up front are sophomores or older, including stud defensive end Derek Barnett. Corner Cam Sutton and safety Brian Randolph lead a Vol secondary that doesn't have any freshmen and includes Todd Kelly, Jr. and Emmanuel Moseley—both of whom played in all 13 games a year ago.

Tennessee DE Derek Barnett
Tennessee DE Derek BarnettWade Payne/Associated Press

While Tennessee's roster overall is still relatively young, its playmakers and the guys Jones depends on are not.

Plus, youth and inexperience don't matter that much anyway.

Missouri won the SEC East last year with a bunch of new starters at wide receiver including Jimmie Hunt and Bud Sasser, had a first-year starter at quarterback in Maty Mauk, a running back in Russell Hansbrough who had to step in for stud Henry Josey and two talented defensive ends in Markus Golden and Shane Ray who had to take on more responsibilities after the departures of Kony Ealy and Michael Sam.

That was Missouri—a team that, from a recruiting standpoint, is nowhere close to what Tennessee has become under Jones.

Tennessee head coach Butch Jones
Tennessee head coach Butch JonesWade Payne/Associated Press

The East hasn't exactly been a juggernaut during Jones' first two seasons on Rocky Top, and as Ohio State proved last year, youth doesn't prevent talented and well-coached teams from reaching the ultimate goal.

I wrote earlier this week that this matchup vs. Florida is the most important of Jones' Tennessee career due to the 10-year losing streak to the Gators and, as Patrick Brown of the Chattanooga Times Free Press noted, Jones' 1-12 record at Tennessee vs. ranked teams.

While Florida isn't ranked, it is an enormous game for Jones if he wants his Vols to legitimately contend for the SEC East title.

Against a team like Florida—that has a redshirt freshman at quarterback, a patchwork offensive line and is in Year 1 of the Jim McElwain era—youth is no excuse for a loss.

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports. Statistics are courtesy of CFBStats.comBarrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.


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