Despite no championships in 23 years, no top 10 finishes in 20 years, no division titles in 14 years, no top 25 finishes the past five years, three losing seasons over the past four years and two top 25 finishes the past 14 years, the history of Tennessee football still holds up. It’s enough to keep them among the best.
In a ranking of the top 25 college football programs of all time by Brad Crawford of 247Sports over the weekend, the Vols came in right at No. 10. They were still second among all SEC schools to the Alabama Crimson Tide and ahead of the Florida Gators, LSU Tigers, Auburn Tigers and Georgia Bulldogs.
Crawford and 247Sports used a method from College Football News in 2020 to provide an updated ranking, and Tennessee football is still among the best. Here’s what he wrote about the Vols in his rankings.
"Much like Nebraska, this college football blueblood has been largely disappointing since winning a national championship in 1998, but times are changing according to the folks in Knoxville. That year marked Tennessee’s last SEC Championship and since Phillip Fulmer’s departure in 2008, four different coaches have come and gone without making an impact. The Vols hired first-year coach Josh Heupel — formerly of UCF — to reverse fortunes at a program that is no longer a staple within the national conversation. We’ll see how quickly, if at all, Heupel can bring Tennessee back to the forefront of the top 25 polls each and every week."
The method scored teams by their final AP Poll rankings, which would date it back to 1935. Crawford was right to compare the Vols to the Nebraska Cornhuskers, who came in two spots ahead of them at No. 8, as both are powerhouse programs who have fallen on hard times.
Given the fact that the formula scored highest for AP national championships and went down from there, you would think that LSU and Florida would have made a jump over Rocky Top, even with Florida’s recent struggles. LSU did come in at No. 11, though, with 678 points, just eight points behind the Vols’ 686 score.
UGA was at No. 12, Auburn at No. 13 and the Florida State Seminoles at No. 14. Florida was 15th, and the Miami Hurricanes were 16th. Simply put, the explosion of Florida talent that began in the 1980s resulted in all three schools staying in the same spot.
Other SEC schools in the rankings included the Arkansas Razorbacks at No. 20, Texas A&M Aggies at No. 21 and Ole Miss Rebels at No. 24. The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, a former SEC school, were in at No. 25.
Simply put, the SEC dominated the rankings. Given that fact and the fact that Tennessee football was still second among teams in that conference is a major testament to the success the program had before it fell off. Could they recapture that success? It doesn’t seem likely in the near future, but this shows where the program still stands right now historically.