1. 2005: 5-6 (3-5)
– Parys Haralson, Jason Allen, Omar Gaither, Jesse Mahelona, Kevin Simon – 20
Justin Harrell, Arron Sears, Robert Meachem, Jonathan Wade – 12
Erik Ainge – 14
Britton Colquitt, Arian Foster
While 1988 ushered in the elite era of Tennessee football, 2005 marked the end of it. It was the first season since ’88 that the Vols missed a bowl game, and this one was much more inexcusable as a whole.
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The Vols were again loaded with elite talent this year. They returned all but one starter on defense and pretty much everybody on offense. Defense, though, was the name of the game for this team. And while 2012 wasted an elite year on offense, 2005 wasted an elite year on defense.
UT was led up front by future NFL Draft picks Justin Harrell, Jesse Mahelona and Parys Haralson, who became a longtime NFL starter. The linebackers consisted of longtime NFL starter Omar Gaither and Kevin Simon, who was drafted. Future NFL starter Marvin Mitchell saw significant action. In the secondary, Jason Allen and Jonathan Wade would become NFL starters.
By the way, this team also had future NFL star Britton Colquitt at punter. On offense, quarterback Erik Ainge would be drafted three years later. Robert Meachem, another future pro starter, was the go-to receiver. Arron Sears would get drafted as well.
Then there was elite young talent Arian Foster, who led the team in rushing, also became an NFL star. Up front, there was Ramon Foster, who was the future longtime starter for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Both were freshmen this year.
So what happened? Well, Ainge had suffered a season-ending injury the year before late, and Rick Clausen filled in the final four games. As a result, his confidence was wrecked early in this season as Phillip Fulmer and Randy Sanders kept alternating quarterbacks. That messed with all the chemistry, and the offensive line did not stay focused in the offseason either.
Combine that with a schedule that saw them play seven teams who would make a bowl and six who would finish in the top 25, including three road games, and things turned disastrous. A decent offense would have won at least five of those games, maybe taken them undefeated.
Tennessee football showed how good they were by coming back from 21-0 down to upset the LSU Tigers on the road that year, a game that would be LSU’s only regular season loss. So they did have a ton of talent. But these issues held it back all year on offense, and it resulted in Sanders resigning as offensive coordinator at the end of the year.
There’s no debating that this is the most talented team in school history to miss a bowl game. The Vols started the year off ranked No. 3 in the nation for a reason. And despite all the issues, the future pro players from this season prove how loaded the team truly was.