It’s the first 10-win regular season for Tennessee football since 2003. The Vols secured a 10-2 record with a 56-0 win over the Vanderbilt Commodores, and yes, they went 10-2 in 2003. This is also the first time they finished the regular season in the top 10 since 2003.
Records and rankings aren’t the only part of why 2022 and 2003 are so identical, though. In both seasons, the Vols beat the Florida Gators and Alabama Crimson Tide but failed to play for the SEC Championship because of a loss to the Georgia Bulldogs.
As far as rankings, Tennessee football finished the regular season in 2003 No. 7 in the AP Poll and No. 8 in the Coaches Poll. Well, they finished this regular season No 7 in the AP Poll and No. 8 in the Coaches Poll.
Rocky Top also had a non-conference win on the road against a team that was in the Big East in 2003 but in the ACC in 2022. In 2003, it was the Miami Hurricanes. This year, it was the Pittsburgh Panthers. Both teams are now in the ACC but were in the Big East back then.
Both teams also had a senior quarterback. Hendon Hooker was the primary starter for almost all of 2022, and Casey Clausen led the way for the Vols in 2003. Clausen finished his career second in all statistical categories to Peyton Manning. Hooker was a stats machine this year.
Georgia and the LSU Tigers also played for the SEC Championship in 2003, just as they are playing this year. In 2003, there was more debate about the East, as UT, Georgia and Florida finished in a three-way tie, all 6-2 in the East. That’s one difference, to be fair.
Another difference is bowl prospects, but only slightly. Despite being a top 10 team, the Vols found themselves in the Peach Bowl in 2003. At the time, that bowl was behind four other bowls with SEC tie-ins regarding prestige: the Citrus Bowl, Outback Bowl, Cotton Bowl and BCS bowl.
During that time, there were only four BCS bowls and six BCS conferences, meaning only two at-large bids were available. No SEC team got an at-large berth. Georgia got the Citrus Bowl nod, the Ole Miss Rebels went to the Cotton Bowl for sharing the SEC West title.
A major controversy, though, was Florida getting the Outback Bowl invite over the Vols. Technically, they could do that because of the three-way tie, but Florida was 8-4 while the Vols were 10-2, so just the draw of the Gators in Tampa, Fla., is why they got the bid.
As a result, Rocky Top found itself in a much less prestigious Peach Bowl, and ironically, they faced the Clemson Tigers. That’s ironic because one of the likely scenarios for them this year is a trip to the Orange Bowl, and if they go, they would likely face a Clemson team that everybody thinks will win the ACC this week.
Of course, another layer of irony is the Peach Bowl being a playoff game this year. It’s come a long way since 2003. Tennessee football didn’t finish in the top 10 in 2003, as it lost to Clemson, so the Vols will be looking to end better no matter what. If they do win their bowl game, this season will be more like 2001.