The Tennessee football Volunteers should add the Auburn Tigers and Ole Miss Rebels.
Moving to a 10-game SEC-only schedule due to COVID-19 opens up tons of opportunities. Ever since the league split into two divisions back in 1992, traditional rivalries have had to go by the wayside, including two key Tennessee football rivalries.
Now, with the Vols being able to add two opponents from the West, their two teams are obvious. Rocky Top should face the Auburn Tigers and Ole Miss Rebels. UT and Auburn is obvious. The two schools were a huge rivalry and played every year from 1956 to 1991.
However, an underrated rivalry was Tennessee football and Ole Miss. Those two schools have met 64 times, and they played every year from 1972 to 1991. Also, there are numerous stories behind the rivalry.
In 1969, Archie Manning ruined UT’s national championship season, responding to Steve Kiner’s trash talk by shutting out the Vols. However, 25 years later, Peyton Manning spurned Ole Miss and committed to the Vols in a shocker.
Entering this year, there’s another element to this rivalry. Lane Kiffin, who bolted the Vols after one year in 2009, is now head coach of Ole Miss. Who wouldn’t want to see UT face Kiffin this year? The bitterness would be amazing! Kiffin, Manning, and even a yearly rivalry back in the day give this series all the elements it needs.
When you add UT’s traditional rivals in the Florida Gators, Georgia Bulldogs, Alabama Crimson Tide, Vanderbilt Commodores and Kentucky Wildcats for this year, you have a recipe for numerous potentially unforgettable games. Only three times have the Vols played all those schools plus Auburn and Ole Miss: 1969, 1997 and 2009.
By the way, those three years all ironically have part of the storyline behind Tennessee football and Ole Miss. We already mentioned the Archie Manning game in 1969. Well, Peyton Manning led the Vols to the SEC title in 1997, beating Auburn in the process. Meanwhile, 2009 was Kiffin’s one year in Knoxville.
You can’t make this stuff up. Oh, we should also add that the Vols drew the Arkansas Razorbacks already as their other SEC West opponent for this year. They had an 11-year rivalry with Arkansas from 1992 to 2002.
So all of a sudden, this team could potentially play every SEC school it has ever had a rivalry with in one year if the league adds Auburn and Ole Miss. That only ever happened in 1997, and as we mentioned, the Vols did win the SEC title that year.
It’s not just the Vols who have a chance to restore some rivalries either. Auburn could face UT and the Florida Gators, a school it used to have a huge rivalry with. There are other schools who could bring back rivalries with the SEC expanding to 10 games.
Obviously, the league will try to focus on fairness with teams given the projections of how good programs are expected to be. However, the Vols already face the projected best team in the SEC West and the projected worst team.
Adding Auburn and Ole Miss brings in middle of the road teams, one on the higher end and one on the lower end. So it doesn’t change much for Jeremy Pruitt’s team. All this does is revive rivalries and bitter feuds that are deeply rooted in SEC lore. Tennessee football fans should want to see this happen immediately.