Tennessee's Butch Jones, left, and Oregon's Mark Helfrich (AP photos)
EUGENE, Ore. — In his first year as head coach at Tennessee, Butch Jones wants to rebuild the Volunteers. In his first year as head coach at Oregon, Mark Helfrich wants the Ducks to stay the course.
The two programs collide on Saturday when Tennessee visits Oregon.
The second-ranked Ducks will be the toughest test so far in Jones' tenure with the Vols. It doesn't get any easier: included in Tennessee's next five games are No. 18 Florida, No. 9 Georgia, No. 13 South Carolina and No. 1 Alabama.
Former Vols coach Derek Dooley was fired last November in part because of his 0-15 record against Top 25 teams. Tennessee has lost its last 16 games against ranked foes since beating No. 21 South Carolina 31-13 on Oct. 31, 2009.
This season under Jones the Vols have lopsided wins against Austin Peay and Western Kentucky. They've been playing more disciplined with just two penalties and they've been more opportunistic, converting seven Western Kentucky turnovers into 38 points last Saturday.
Tennessee is tied with Arizona State for fewest penalties among FBS teams, and tied with Tulane for most takeaways.
"We're learning how to win. We're learning how to fight through fatigue when it gets a little bit hot. We need more leadership. That's what championship football teams do. They have that inner drive," Jones said. "A lot of times, you're willing to give up something you want at a moment of convenience. We have to learn to push and grind our ways through."
Helfrich stepped into a much better situation. Oregon's offensive coordinator for the past four years was promoted to head coach when Chip Kelly went to the Philadelphia Eagles earlier this year.
The Ducks went 46-7 the past four years under Kelly — credited with designing their innovative speedy spread option — and played in BCS bowl games in each of those years. Last season, Oregon went 12-1 and beat Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl.
The Ducks haven't missed a beat under Helfrich so far this season, with easy wins over Nicholls State and Virginia. Oregon's prolific offense has averaged 664.5 total offensive yards a game, including 425 yards rushing. The team averages 62.5 points.
Kelly was Oregon's coach three seasons ago when the Ducks visited Tennessee and trailed 13-3 before scoring the game's final 45 points. The 48-13 loss was the last time UT dropped a regular-season game to a non-conference opponent.
Five things to look for when Tennessee visits Oregon on Saturday:
COUCH OUT: Jones says defensive lineman Maurice Couch has been ruled ineligible for the game while the university investigates allegations he received improper benefits. Yahoo Sports reported that Couch, former Alabama offensive tackle D.J. Fluker, former Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray, former Mississippi State defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and former Mississippi State receiver Chad Bumphis received payments from Luther Davis, who acted as a go between for the players with agents and financial advisers. Couch posted to Twitter on Friday: "I want to apologize to everyone from my family, teammates n the Volnation. I'm sorry I let u guys down."
ONE-TWO RB PUNCH: Tennessee's Rajion Neal has 31 carries for 215 yards and four touchdowns through his first two games as the Vols' top back, but Tennessee has also seen production from Marlin Lane, who has run for 135 yards and three scores. "You need more than one running back," Jones said.
SOPH SENSATION: Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota has thrown for 422 yards and three touchdowns, and he's rushed for 235 yards and three more scores. His command of the offense is garnering him ever-increasing Heisman Trophy buzz. "Marcus would be great in any system. We're very fortunate to have him and we're excited about his future," Helfrich said.
TAKING ON THE SEC: The Ducks defeated the Vols 48-13 in Knoxville in their only previous meeting in 2010. That season Oregon faced another Southeastern Conference team, Auburn, in the BCS national championship game. Overall, the Ducks are 4-5 against teams from the SEC, but they've won the last three of four — with the only loss coming against the Tigers in the title game.
TAKING ON THE PAC: Tennessee is 17-14-4 against Pac-12 schools, but the Vols' last win over a Pac-12 team came in 2006, when the then-No. 23 Vols beat No. 9 California in Knoxville 35-18 to open the season. Tennessee has lost two straight on the West Coast (Cal in 2007 and UCLA in 2008). The last Pac-12 road win came in 1997, when Peyton Manning led Tennessee to a 30-24 victory at UCLA.
AP Sports Writer Steve Megargee in Tennessee contributed to this report.