Growing up in Tennessee meant the SEC.

It meant orange and white, Rocky Top and football time. Neyland Stadium, checkered turf, "Power T"s and blue tick coonhounds were symbols of family, parties and cheese dip.

I remember watching the 1998 National Championship with my brothers. I remember them going out on the deck and yelling at the top of their lungs. They weren't the only ones. The rest of the neighborhood was outside screaming as well: yelling and cheering, unable to contain their excitement.

Since my arrival at UT in 2009, Tennessee football has gone through many changes. Lane Kiffin, Derek Dooley, Mike Hamilton and Dave Hart have all played a part in the team you see today.

Vol fans have been demanding, impatient and eager to see a more successful team emerge from the million-dollar program. Students have lost interest in their home team. Ticket sales have dwindled.

Losses to conference "rivals" Vanderbilt and Kentucky were the last straw. That's when former Cincinnati head coach Butch Jones stepped in at the 24th head coach of the Tennessee Volunteers.

I've had several friends, relatives and coworkers ask my opinion on Jones as a coach. I'm not sure why, but I haven't answered them.

I don't know enough about him to say much.

He has a good history, I've heard he's a nice guy and the players seem to like and respect him. His Twitter is quite successful as well.

That said, I would still wonder if he isn't another Louisiana Tech hire that will fan out in a few years and sink the program even lower.

As I've said in previous columns, it's going to take time and patience before anyone will really know.

Watching the 2013 National Championship opened my eyes a little bit more.

Tennessee is in the SEC. Tennessee plays teams like Alabama. It's a whole other level. Maybe everyone knows this, but maybe they don't put together what that means.

Right now, Tennessee isn't competing like an SEC team.

The football program can succeed, it can improve and compete, but that progress may not be as evident in a conference that has won the National Championship seven years running.

— Lauren Kittrell is a senior in journalism and electronic media. She can be reached at