Team 119 and Team 120 for Tennessee football had very high preseason expectations. Use that as a lesson for the 2018 Volunteers.
Everyone remembered the “amazing turnaround” in the late of the season in 2014. Justin Worley got hurt, Joshua Dobbs took over, and the rest was history. While it looked great with the wins Tennessee football put up late in the 2014 season, it was really inflated. Let’s look at who Team 118 beat (and lost to) in that stretch of games.
First, the Vols barely beat South Carolina at Williams-Bryce Stadium. Don’t get me wrong, this was a great win for them at the time. It was also the start of Butch Jones’s strand of fourth-quarter miracles. But, despite this miraculous comeback, South Carolina in 2014 was known to blow leads in the fourth quarter all season.
Next, they dominated a Kentucky team that didn’t even make a bowl game. This game itself looked promising for the future of the Vols heading into 2015. However, Kentucky for most of the year was dominated by other teams, especially in the SEC.
Then, on Senior night in Knoxville in 2014, Missouri came to town. This was a game that Tennessee football mightily struggled in. They were outmatched on both sides of the ball. And remember, that Missouri team in 2014 won the SEC East. This was the only good team the 2014 Vols faced down in that final stretch. As expected, they lost.
Finally, hoping to make a bowl game, they made the trip to Nashville to take on a below average Vanderbilt team. Vanderbilt, who was the worst team in the SEC by far in 2014, gave Tennessee football a run for their money. The Vols ultimately won the game but not convincingly.
Team 118 then ended the year on a high note dominating an Iowa team in the TaxSlayer Bowl. The win itself looked great! But this was an Iowa team that did not do well in their conference.
Despite these red flags that were glaring at Vol fans and the media, Tennessee was overhyped heading into 2015. They were ranked No. 25 in the Preseason AP Poll. Also, many analysts had this team as a dark horse to win the SEC East. They were even projected to go 11-1 in ESPN’s College FPI! But in the end, Team 119 did not live up to par.
With fourth-quarter blown losses to Oklahoma and Florida, along with a loss to Arkansas, the season seemed to be over early. That’s when another stretch of wins that were red flags came about heading into 2016 for Team 120.
Team 119 started this stretch when they faced Mark Richt and the Georgia Bulldogs in Knoxville. Down 24-3 with about a couple of minutes to go in the first half, it all seemed to be over. But Butch Jones, as conservative as he was in 2015, was desperate.
He faced what it seemed like Fourth and a mile. As a result, it ended up perfectly for the Vols. Joshua Dobbs completes a pass downfield to Josh Smith, and Smith takes it to the checkerboards.
Then on the next kickoff, Georgia fumbles the ball, and Tennessee takes over. Joshua Dobbs then leads the offense to a touchdown, and the Vols have momentum going into the second half.
The Vols ended up having a 35-7 run during that stretch and ended up winning against Georgia. But remember, that Georgia team was on its last leg with Mark Richt.
Then the Vols had a BYE week heading into to Tuscaloosa to face Nick Saban and Alabama. Tennessee football fought hard in this game, but Alabama had just enough to outlast the Vols.
The Vols then went on the road to face Kentucky and did what was expected…dominate. This then followed a stretch of concerning wins over South Carolina (who finished last in the SEC East that year), a non-convincing win over one-win North Texas, and a win against a 5-7 Missouri team Tennessee had trouble putting away. Dominant victories over Vanderbilt and Northwestern in the Outback Bowl resulted in a 9-4 2015 season.
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So heading into 2016, Tennessee football was once again overhyped with a Preseason Top 10 ranking. Analysts once again predicted that 2016 was the year for them to win the SEC East. They were even predicted to finish the season undefeated in the ESPN FPI!
While the red flags were ultimately ignored, somehow, someway, the Vols started out 5-0. But again, there were red flags with those wins. There was the overtime win against Appalachian State to start the season, a first-quarter scare against Virginia Tech, then a very ugly win against Ohio.
Then Florida comes into town with a hurt quarterback. Again the Vols found themselves down big at halftime, but then found their rhythm in the second half and pounded the Gators to end an 11-year losing streak. They followed that up with the Hail Mary game against Georgia to get to 5-0 and on an 11-game winning streak. But almost every single one of those wins was ugly.
That’s when sorcery that Butch Jones found to win those 11 games for Tennessee football came to a halt. The Vols then began to show who they really were, fools gold, proving it was pure luck, not magic, that led to those wins.
Looking back now, everyone had thought Tennessee football was back with the late runs during the 2014 and 2015 season. But going back to all of those wins leading up to the preseason, they really weren’t quality wins.
Jeremy Pruitt is going to great things with the Tennessee football. However, Vols fans should use this as a lesson learned not to put up high expectations in the preseason. They should also learn not to read to much into a strong finish. It will only lead to disappointment if they do.