The Tennessee Volunteers kickoff the 2014 season against Utah State Sunday at Neyland Stadium. The Vols will play in front of a sellout crowd, the first for a home opener since 2007. The optimism among the fan base is about as high as it can be for a team coming off a 5-7 record and its fourth-straight losing season. Butch Jones has fans buying into his “Brick by brick” philosophy for rebuilding the program back into a perennial SEC powerhouse. To his credit, Jones has made many positive changes to the program since his hiring in December 2012. He salvaged a depleted recruiting class in just two months, upset a ranked South Carolina, came within a yard of doing the same against a heavily favored Georgia, embrace Tennessee’s rich history while restoring its identity and orchestrating a top-5 recruiting class in his first full season.

Sunday’s game is the next step for Jones. Tennessee needs to show improvement from last season, even with an extremely difficult schedule. While South Carolina entered as the heavy favorite, last night’s game showed that the SEC East may be wide open in 2014. That’s not to say that Tennessee is SEC Championship bound, but other programs that have experienced dominance during Tennessee’s drought may be on the downfall. But, for the Vols to successfully compete in the SEC East, they will have to defeat an underrated Utah State.

Many fans are overlooking Utah State. The Aggies were 9-5 (7-1) last season and have plenty of talent. By now, Vol fans are well aware of Chuckie Keeton’s ability and preseason accolades. The dual-threat quarterback was named to several preseason award watch lists including the Heisman Trophy, Davey O’Brien and Maxwell Awards. Utah State’s veteran linebacking corps of Zach Vigil and Kyler Fackrell will be no cake walk for an offensive line that returns zero starters. But the Vols have plenty of talent and speed, despite inexperience.

Tennessee is favored slightly in Sunday’s matchup and should be able to match Utah State. The game will set the course for the remainder of the season. If the Vols fall in week one, the excitement will disappear and the perception will change drastically. A win really doesn’t present a great positive change, but prevents momentum from shifting negatively. If Tennessee beat Utah State, its a win against a MWC team. If they lose, its a dramatic loss against a MWC team. Disregarding the fact that the Aggies are coming off a great season and have a potential breakout star at quarterback, that’s what the perception of Tennessee will be this season. With the remainder of the schedule heavily favoring opponents and the need to keep perception of the program positive, this game is a must win for Tennessee, despite being overlooked by many members of its fan base.

Butch Jones will need to do his best coaching in Sunday’s game and will have to prove something to the Tennessee faithful. He’s had no problem winning over Vol fans, but keeping them may be difficult. Jones will need to win this season and week one is the first step. Tennessee will need to convincingly defeat Utah State to keep the “brick by brick” rebuilding process moving in the right direction.