There are good omens and bad omens with Tennessee football. Whenever the Vols play in Atlanta, at least this century, it’s a bad omen. They either lose that game or have a bad season. However, historically, playing Syracuse is a good omen.
Well, the best way to break those trends is for the Vols to play Syracuse in Atlanta, and that’s exactly what they are about to do in 2025. UT and Syracuse will face off at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic to open the season.
This will be the fourth meeting between Tennessee football and Syracuse, with the Vols winning the previous three, two of which were openers and one of which was a bowl game. The announcement for the game was made by both programs last week on Twitter.
Looking back on history, good fortune comes to the Vols after they play Syracuse. The first time these two teams faced off was in the Gator Bowl to end the 1966 season. UT won 18-12 and finished with an 8-3 record and a No. 14 ranking in the Coaches Poll under Doug Dickey, who was in his third year.
The next season, Rocky Top went 9-2 and won the SEC championship. They also claim a retroactive national championship from that year as well after finishing the regular season ranked No. 2 in the nation.
It would take another three decades before the two faced off again. The Vols took on ‘Cuse to open the 1998 season. It was Tee Martin’s first start, and in a shootout against Donovan McNabb, he led a game-winning field goal drive to beat the eventual Big East Champions 34-33. Obviously, that year is famous for UT going on to win the national title.
Then came 2001. Again, Tennessee football opened the season up against Syracuse. The Vols won 33-9. They went 11-2 that year, finished ranked No. 4 in the nation and ended a 30-year losing streak to the Florida Gators in The Swamp. That remains the only season this century they lost fewer than three games and finished in the top 10.
However, that’s also the season that started the curse in Atlanta. Rocky Top was upset by the LSU Tigers in the SEC Championship game that year. Ranked No. 2 at the time, had they won, they would have played the Miami Hurricanes for the national title.
That loss was the beginning of four consecutive years the Vols played in Atlanta, twice for the SEC Title and twice in the Peach Bowl, and they lost all four despite being favored in three of them. They then lost again in the 2007 SEC Championship and the 2009 Peach Bowl.
Derek Dooley, ironically was the one to end it, as Tennessee football beat the N.C. State Wolfpack to open the 2012 season. However, Dooley’s team went 5-7 in 2012, and he was fired before the final game of the year.
Five years later, the Vols opened the season again in Atlanta, this time playing the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which had just opened. Again, they won, but again, their head coach was fired later in the year. Butch Jones was about to oversee the worst season in school history, as the Vols stumbled to a 4-8 record and 0-8 SEC record.
See the trend? The Vols either lose games in Atlanta or have historically bad seasons when they win in Atlanta. However, they have historically great seasons that come directly after facing Syracuse, either to end the previous season or open the current one.
Well, with Tennessee football and Syracuse facing off in Atlanta in 2025, something’s got to give. If the Vols win and have a historically bad season, then that ends the trend of great seasons when they play Syracuse. However, winning and having a historically great season or even good season would end the trend of having a historically bad season when they win in Atlanta.
Of course, then there’s the third option, which is them losing to Syracuse. However, that would break a trend on its own, as they haven’t ever lost to Syracuse. Simply put, no matter what, something’s going to end.