On Nov. 13, 2010, Derek Dooley’s first team beat a hapless Ole Miss squad 52-14 as part of a four-game winning streak that made the Vols bowl eligible.
That was the last morsel of success that Tennessee has tasted against the SEC West. Clearly Tennessee’s natural crossover rival, Alabama, has a ton to do with that. The Crimson Tide have been on a historic run, putting together one of the best college football dynasties in the modern era and generally making easy work of Tennessee ever since Nick Saban arrived in 2006.
But whether it’s bad luck, bad timing or just the power of the SEC West in general, the Vols have caught their Western opponents at the wrong time. Consider this: since 2011 and counting next week’s matchup with No. 3 Ole Miss, the SEC West teams the Vols have faced have come into their game against Tennessee with an astonishing 47-2 record.
Here’s the proof:
No. 2 Alabama: 7-0 (37-6 L)
No. 8 Arkansas: 8-1 (49-7 L)
No. 1 Alabama: 6-0 (44-13 L)
No. 19 MSU: 5-0 (41-31 L)
No. 1 Alabama: 7-0 (45-10 L)
No. 7 Auburn: 8-1 (55-23 L)
No. 3 Ole Miss: 6-0
No.7 Alabama: 6-1 or 5-2
That record will move to either 53-3 or 52-4 the following week, depending on the outcome of Alabama’s game with Texas A&M.
Tennessee’s uncanny trend of catching West teams at the wrong time appears to be continuing this year. No. 3 Ole Miss is the highest its been in the polls since 1964 after knocking off Alabama and Texas A&M in back-to-back weeks. A team that would’ve been very beatable a couple years ago is now a massive test for the Vols.
And though we can’t predict the future, Alabama isn’t completely going away anytime soon and next year’s other West opponent, Arkansas, appears to be trending in the right direction. Don’t expect the 2016 trip to College Station to be easy either with the way Kevin Sumlin is recruiting.
That’s just been the reality for the Vols in recent years. The program has been down, the West has been better than the East and a tough crossover opponent, in addition to some bad timing, have all led to two losses a year from the other side of the conference.