At this point in the 2015 college football season, many fans and media, local and national alike, had the Tennessee Volunteers sitting pretty with a handful of big wins to start their season. Those same fans and media all picked the Vols to be competitors in the SEC East for the first time in nearly a decade, and a quick 5-0 or 4-1 start was expected. Instead, Tennessee finds itself with a 2-3 record and 0-2 start in SEC play. But the losses themselves haven't been what is irking fans: it's how the Vols have lost the games.
All three of Tennessee's losses have come after the Vols earned two-score leads and squandered them. Against Oklahoma and Florida, the Vols lost those leads in the fourth quarter, and against Arkansas the Vols gave it up earlier, losing it at halftime. In all three, the Vols either went into a shell on offense or allowed big plays on defense, or sometimes both. Regardless, the Vols were in all three games and had a chance to win them. The team, for a multitude of reasons, just couldn't close them out.
So here the Vols sit, 0-2 in conference play for the eighth straight season and likely out of the SEC East race. Most fans and media at the start of the season had Tennessee 1-1 at the worst to start conference play, which would still have them right in the middle of the East discussion. That begs this question: Were expectations for the Vols too high at the beginning of the season?
The Vols are certainly talented enough to be where many thought they'd be before the season started. Tennessee may have lost all three of their "big games" so far this season, but they were right there in all three. The Vols haven't been talented or deep enough to say that over the last couple seasons, as blowouts at the hands of Ole Miss, Alabama, Auburn, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Oregon can attest to that. But the Vols have lost to Oklahoma, Florida, and Arkansas this season by a combined 12 points.
But why have the Vols lost these games then, if not for talent? Is it youth? Is it coaching? Is it fatigue? All of those have been contributors, and at least two of those (youth and coaching) should possibly have been more obvious in hindsight. But the Vols are at the point in their rebuilding process where there are about out of excuses as to why they can't finish. This team has consistently come up small in its biggest moments, and while the reasons may vary slightly from game to game, the emotions after each loss are the same from fans: outrage. And that anger is understandable given the way the 2015 Volunteers were hyped up by outside voices (it's worth noting coaches weren't hyping up the team, but that's pretty standard for any coach of a major college football program, and especially this staff).
These faults have been why those who have said expectations were too high to start the season have felt justified in their opinions. And those are reasonable arguments as to why the Vols may have been too hyped at the beginning of the year. Tennessee's youth has been exposed in key positions thanks to injuries on defense, and some of the freshmen and sophomores haven't taken the jumps many expected.
But those reasons don't fully excuse what has happened to the Vols this season. Yes, there have been missed plays and lack of execution, but coaching has been just as suspect, if not more so, than the play of the athletes on the field. Whether it's not getting the ball consistently enough to their best players, poor coverage calls, or just bad time management, the Vols have taken themselves out of games and have beaten themselves more than they've been beaten by the opposing team. It's Tennessee's fault they are 2-3 right now, and it's not due to any outside factors.
My answer is no, the expectations for this team weren't too high before the season began. Should fans and media have expected them to close out all these close games? Maybe not. But the fact that this team has been competitive in every game and so close to winning them shows they have the talent to be where most people thought they would at this point.
Both sides of the argument on whether or not expectations were too high for Tennessee to begin this season are worth listening to. But the Vols have proven through five games that they have the talent to compete with any team on their schedule, and what looked like a promising year has now turned sour. The Vols are better than their 2-3 record indicates, but they only have themselves to blame for not reaching their goals.