Tennessee’s 2017 season has gotten off to a less-than-ideal start. The Vols barely escaped Atlanta with a double-overtime victory over Georgia Tech to start the season, then they dominated FCS opponent Indiana State. Things were looking alright for the Vols at that point.
Then they traveled to Gainesville, and things have only gone downhill since.
The Vols dropped a heart breaker to Florida 26-20, barely defeated a winless UMass team 17-13 the following week at home, and then got pummeled 41-0 by No. 7 Georgia for the worst defeat in Neyland Stadium history.
Now Tennessee is on a bye week, and many are wondering if the Vols can still turn around their season and finish better than 6-6 or 7-5. History says turnarounds like that are possible for the Vols, and this year’s schedule appears somewhat conducive to such a turnaround as well.
If you’re looking to the past to find examples of Tennessee teams salvaging their season after a rough start, there are a few instances of that happening. In fact, the most recent example happened just a couple years ago.
Tennessee had suffered late game collapses against Oklahoma and Florida and gave up another lead to Arkansas en route to a 2-3 start to the 2015 season. The Vols were reeling and desperately needed a victory. But when they fell behind 24-3 to No. 19 Georgia, all hope seemed lost.
Then the Vols staged a comeback and won 38-31, and they avoided falling to 2-4 with a date with Alabama on the horizon. Tennessee would lose to the Tide, but they would win every game the rest of the season and finish 9-4.
If you rewind to the 2007 season, Tennessee also had a losing record at one point. That Vol squad started out the year 1-2 with a 14-point loss to Cal to start the season and a 59-20 beat down by Florida in Week 3. But then that Tennessee team would only lose one more game in the regular season (a 41-17 blowout loss to Alabama) and actually ended up winning the SEC East. The Vols would finish 10-4 that season after starting out 1-2.
Looking back even further, the 1983 team also started the season 1-2 and suffered a blowout loss to a conference rival. Auburn destroyed the Vols 37-14 in Week 3 of that season, but Tennessee would lose just one game the rest of the season and capped off that year with a win over No. 16 Maryland in the Citrus Bowl to go 9-3.
And finally, if you take it all the way back to the 1971 season, the Vols that year also started 3-2 like this year’s team. Tennessee lost to both the ranked teams they faced, losing to No. 5 Auburn and No. 4 Alabama. But after that loss to Alabama, the Vols wouldn’t lose again that season and would finish the year with a 10-2 record.
One thing all those seasons have in common is a softer back end of the schedule after a tougher beginning. And Tennessee’s 2017 schedule lines up similarly.
The Vols’ match-up with Alabama appears to be their only surefire loss remaining on their schedule. Granted, the only game that looks like a definite victory is Tennessee’s contest with Southern Miss, but every single game aside from the Alabama game is very winnable for the Vols.
Tennessee comes off this bye week to host South Carolina. After traveling to Alabama, they travel to take on Kentucky, return home to play Southern Miss, travel to Missouri, then host LSU and Vanderbilt to close out the season.
Alabama is Tennessee’s lone remaining ranked team on the schedule. And aside from Alabama, none of the SEC schools the Vols will face currently have winning conference records for the season.
None of the Vols’ remaining conference games are guaranteed victories. Tennessee could just as easily go 9-3 or 8-4 as they could 7-5 or 6-6. A turnaround is no guarantee, but history shows the Vols have done it before, and this year’s schedule makes it appear more likely for fans looking for some hope.