Eyebrows went up earlier this week as it was revealed that the Georgia Bulldogs on Nov. 13 would be the homecoming game this year for Tennessee football. Who picks such an elite matchup for their homecoming game?
Well, the Vols do, and quite honestly, the history with such a decision is not a good one. This is UT’s first Power Five matchup for a homecoming game since 2013. That year, the Vols lost to the Auburn Tigers 55-23.
Before that, Tennessee football did win a homecoming game against a Power Five foe in 2010, beating the Ole Miss Rebels 52-14. However, Ole Miss was atrocious that year, stumbling to a 4-8 record, while Auburn was more the caliber of what Georgia will be this year, as they won the SEC Championship and played for the national title.
One connection between the two games, though, is that they occurred in the first seasons for Butch Jones and Derek Dooley. Both were eventually fired after limited success, although Jones saw greater success. That’s another bad omen for Heupel having an elite homecoming matchup his first year on Rocky Top.
It doesn’t just stop there either, though. Before Ole Miss, the Vols most notable homecoming matchup in recent history had been 2002 against the Miami Hurricanes. The U was running a dynasty at the time and entered the year ranked No. 1 as defending national champions.
To be fair, UT entered the season ranked No. 5, and this was expected to be the regular season matchup of the year. However, by the time the two faced off, the Vols already had three losses, and they lost that one 26-3. In the process, they stumbled to an 8-5 season, their first five-loss season and their first season without a top 25 finish since 1988.
That was also the first season the Vols failed to play in a bowl on or after New Year’s Day since 1994. What happened in 1994? Well, they played the No. 17 ranked Washington State Cougars, who had the nation’s No. 1 ranked defense, for homecoming.
To be fair, that was Peyton Manning’s first start, and the Vols won that game 10-9, which was the turning point for the decade. However, just scheduling that game was a bad omen, as 1994 was the only year during the 1990s that the Vols failed to play in a bowl game on or after New Year’s Day, and it was the only season in which they had more than three losses that decade.
See the trend? Playing Power Five teams for homecoming spells bad luck for Tennessee football, and it doesn’t matter if the Vols win or lose those games. There is just something about that season or the future of a coach that appears problematic. Heupel could potentially change it, but this isn’t a good omen for him starting off.