Alabama is the program everyone else is chasing in college football. But Ole Miss would be a more appropriate role model for Tennessee.
As much as the Vols have struggled the past few years, they never reached the depths to which Ole Miss plummeted in Houston Nutt's last season as coach.
The Rebels fell to 2-10 in 2011, establishing themselves as the worst program in the SEC. That changed fast under first-year coach Hugh Freeze in 2012.
Tennessee can only hope for as sudden of a turnaround under first-year coach Butch Jones. There are similarities.
Like Freeze last year, Jones' first priority is salvaging what's left of the recruiting class that his predecessor, Derek Dooley, began assembling.
And like Freeze, Jones has made recruiting upgrades leading up to today's national signing date. More upgrades could be forthcoming in that the Vols remain in contention for several big-name recruits.
Freeze had even more work to do when he replaced Nutt. The Rebels had just six commitments at the time. Freeze added 13 more for a signing class of 19.
The signees included junior college transfer Bo Wallace, who became the starting quarterback and led the Rebels to a 7-6 season, including a 38-17 rout of Pittsburgh in the BBVA Compass Bowl.
The momentum has extended into this recruiting season. A top-10 class isn't out of the question for the Rebels, whose commitments included Laquan Treadwell, one of the top wide receivers in the country.
Add those recruits to a team that returns 19 starters, and Ole Miss appears on the brink of another leap, perhaps as high as the top 25. It has made that ascent despite playing in the best conference in the country.
How could you have seen that coming?
You couldn't have seen it in Freeze's resume. Until recently, he was better known for "The Blind Side," a movie which told the story of Michael Oher, whom Freeze coached in high school.
When Freeze was hired at Ole Miss, his head-coaching experience beyond high school was limited to two years at Lambuth College and one at Arkansas State. His only experience in the SEC consisted of two seasons at Ole Miss as a tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator.
Regardless of a college coach's accomplishments,
it's reasonable to question how he will fare in the SEC, where the competition is tougher — on the field and in recruiting. However, Freeze made the transition from Arkansas State to Ole Miss as easily as he negotiated the move from Lambuth to Arkansas State.
Jones had a better resume than Freeze before taking the SEC plunge. He won at both Central Michigan and Cincinnati. That's not the SEC. But it's not Lambuth and Arkansas State, either.
Freeze has proved that ability matters more than background or experience. He also has proved that the right coach can make a difference right away.
Tennessee fans should take that to heart and ask themselves, "If Ole Miss can do it, why can't we?"