What happened to the Vols?
by Tony Basilo
Everywhere you go in Rocky Top, it seems everyone is asking the same question: What happened to the Vols? Phillip Fulmer and the Big Orange Nation couldnâ’t have imagined the decline since Tennessee won the National Title on January 4, 1998. It has been literally all downhill from there.
Barring the unforeseen, (i.e. an Ebola breakout in Gainesville, Athens, Lexington, Nashville ,and Columbia) Tennessee will be celebrating nine years of football without an SEC Title. Minus a major national tragedy (like a civil war that consumes most of the programs in major college football), Tennessee will be eight years past their past appearance in a BCS game.
Compounding matters is the overall inability to finish a season. The Vols close like my Philadelphia Phillies bullpenâ"ah, they donâ’t. This will mark the 6th consecutive season that our beloved Big Orange have finished outside of the final top 10. A 2-5 record in Bowl games doesnâ’t help much there. In fact, Tennessee has lost all five bowl games by double digits.
When it comes to the polls, the Vols resemble Howard Deanâ’s nosedive in â’04 after he took up screaming. Tennessee embarrassingly has found itself on the outside looking in during four of the past seven Top 25â’s. An 8-4 mark this year would undoubtedly push this dubious distinction to 5 out of 8 years.
With a sub-standard .500 record, history is not on Phillip Fulmerâ’s side as he looks for a strong finish in â’07. Fulmer is 4-8 versus Steve Spurrier, 2-4 Versus Mark Richt, and 1-2 Versus Nick Saban. Accuse me of nitpicking if you want, but Tennessee is only 24-24 against the current head coaches in the SEC combined. Fulmer boasts a winning record against only four current SEC head coaches: Houston Nutt, Ed Orgeron, Bobby Johnson, and Rich Brooks.
Versus the Big Four in the league since â‘99 (Florida, Georgia, LSU and Auburn), Tennessee is an Ole Miss like 9-17. Thatâ’s a .346 winning percentage for those scoring at home. Thereâ’s a decent chance that South Carolina could crack the top 10 before they face Tennessee. That doesnâ’t portend well for a UT victory as Tennessee is only 8-15 against top 10 teams since â’99.
If the likes of Arkansas, South Carolina, Kentucky, Alabama, and Georgia are in the top 25 at the time that we play them, buckle your Big Orange seat belt. Tennessee is a measly 17-21 against ranked teams (.447) since â’99. Two or three of the above opponents figure to finish the season with at least 5 conference wins on the year. Uh-oh! Since â’01, Tennessee is only 4-15 versus teams that finish with a winning record in conference.
Not only are the Vols not beating teams that matter, Tennessee isnâ’t winning much period. Dating back to the start of 2005, the Vols are only 16-12 overall. This is counting the Arkansas State game to be kind. To find a 28 game stretch as futile in Rocky Top, you have to go back to 1979-81.
In those days, talent and facilities were an issue. Johnny Majors was trying to kick-start a program that had lost its way under Bill Battle. Today, Tennessee is a program with Porsche facilities and a Chevy Chevette engine. The Vols may be down but itâ’s not due to a lack of hardware. Since â’99, Tennesseeâ’s classes have been ranked an average of 8th in America out of 118 Division 1-A schools. In fact the last four Tennessee recruiting classes dating back to 2004 were ranked 12th, 4th, 23rd and 2nd or 1st nationally. That should not lead to an unranked team.
Confirming the hardware on campus is Tennesseeâ’s ability to produce NFL football players. Since 2000, Tennessee has had 50 players taken in the NFL draft. Thatâ’s an average of 6 players per season. Most teams in Division 1 football would die to produce this much professional talent.
Somewhere the rubberâ’s not meeting the road. The talent is not materializing into victories, which leaves the Big Orange Nation in a tizzy. Makes you wonder, what goes first, the chicken, the egg or the head coach?
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