Call it the Mirror Bowl, the Expectations Bowl or the Trending Upward Bowl.
Whatever the label, the Southeastern Conference football matchup between Arkansas and Tennessee on Oct. 3 inside Neyland Stadium possesses a lot more intrigue than it would have a couple of years ago. Arkansas coach Bret Bielema and Tennessee counterpart Butch Jones will be guiding teams that capped 7-6 seasons in 2014 with resounding bowl victories, which has their respective fan bases salivating for more.
"There is a lot of momentum in our program," Jones said on a recent conference call. "We had 63,000 people at our spring game, and we thought at 8 o'clock that morning that we were going to have to cancel it with the threat of severe weather. I think our players have fed off the positive momentum, but they've been extremely focused in terms of their capacity for work and their mental effort and intensity. They brought it each and every day this spring, and that's what you want.
"You want the expectations, because this is a very proud football program, but we also understand that we have a long, long way to go in the development."
Arkansas and Tennessee are rotating, cross-divisional foes who last met in 2011 and are not scheduled to meet again after this season until 2020.
A 34-20 loss to Alabama last October saddled the Vols with a 3-5 record and the likelihood of a fifth straight losing season, but Tennessee went to South Carolina and rallied for a 45-42 overtime upset. That triumph catapulted the Vols to three wins in their final four regular-season games and a berth in the TaxSlayer Bowl, where they built a 42-7 lead midway through the third quarter in a 45-28 crushing of Iowa.
While the Vols were stunning South Carolina, the Razorbacks were losing 17-10 at Mississippi State to fall to 4-5 with three regular-season games remaining. Arkansas had lost all 13 league contests in Bielema's tenure until last November, when the Razorbacks blanked LSU 17-0 and Ole Miss 30-0.
The Razorbacks earned an invitation to the AdvoCare Texas Bowl, where they ripped former Southwest Conference nemesis Texas 31-7.
"We won three of our last four and let one get away at Missouri," Bielema said. "We really felt that after walking off the field against Texas that we would have loved to have played another three or four more games. Our guys were feeling really good and were playing extremely well. We had 11 guys sign NFL contracts, but our guys have used the momentum of that game and carried it forward as far as in the spring.
"We made a huge jump physically in the way we look and walk and handle our business, and I think there is a no-nonsense approach with this group that I am really enjoying watching."
The similarities between Arkansas and Tennessee don't end with the third-year SEC coaches or last season's records.
Both starting quarterbacks — Brandon Allen of Arkansas and Josh Dobbs of Tennessee — are being mostly overlooked in terms of preseason attention. Then there are the talented tailback tandems, with Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams of the Razorbacks owning the experience edge over Tennessee's Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara.
Arkansas and Tennessee could get to their matchup with 4-0 records, but it won't be easy. The Razorbacks will be favored in opening games against UTEP, Toledo and Texas Tech, but then they will face Texas A&M in a revenge opportunity after losing to the Aggies last year in overtime.
For the Vols to get to 4-0, they would have to defeat Oklahoma at home and Florida in Gainesville, with Tennessee having lost 10 straight to the Gators regardless of location.
"Arkansas has a lot of momentum, just like us," Jones said, "and Bret has done a tremendous job there not just with the building of that program but the mentality and the toughness. They are a team that has our attention just like every team, but I have a tremendous amount of respect for everything that is going on there. I know that is going to be a challenge, but every game will be a challenge.
"Their style of play, their toughness and their confidence — I think they have everyone's attention."
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.