Coming into the 2015 season, the Vols had an embarrassing amount of losing streaks still active. From a losing streak a decade-long to the Florida Gators to a 3-game losing skid to the Missouri Tigers, the Vols had far too many active losing streaks heading into this season.
But with a game left in the 2015 regular season, the Vols can look back and celebrate the end of a handful of those losing streaks.
The first streak went down when the Vols defeated No. 19 Georgia 38-31 back on October 10th. Not only did it end Tennessee’s 5-game skid against the Bulldogs, but it was also the Vols’ first victory over a ranked opponent since they defeated No. 9 South Carolina on October 19th, 2013, nearly two years ago.
Then the Vols ended another pair of streaks with a victory over Missouri this weekend. The win over the Tigers was Tennessee’s first win in four meetings against the Tigers, snapping a 3-game winless streak since Missouri joined the SEC in 2012. But the victory was also the Vols’ first win on the road in conference play against a team not named Kentucky, South Carolina, or Vanderbilt since 2010 when the Vols dispatched Ole Miss 52-14. Before Saturday’s win over Missouri, the Vols had gone 4-15 in SEC road games with the four wins all coming against Kentucky, Vanderbilt, and South Carolina, teams the Vols have historically dominated.
Ending these streaks is a sign of progress for the Vols. All of these losing streaks began before Butch Jones took over, and he and his staff definitely deserve some of the credit for getting Tennessee back to a point where they can’t be taken for granted by opponents. The Vols have taken a step in the right direction this season, and there’s tangible evidence of this program climbing out of the hole it’s been in.
But there are still plenty of steps left to be taken. And those steps start with ending the rest of Tennessee’s losing streaks.
Tennessee still has three big losing streaks that they failed to stop this season. The Vols lost the 11th straight game to the Florida Gators this year, dropped their 9th straight game to Alabama, and couldn’t defeat an SEC West opponent for the 10th straight time. If Tennessee wants to become a prominent program once again, they must end these streaks as soon as possible.
There’s a very good chance that the Vols will be picked as the favorite to win the SEC East next season considering the amount of talent on the roster, the way they are finishing this season, and the overall weaker state of the SEC East. But there’s no way the Vols can win the East crown without ending at least one of those streaks.
When the Vols last beat Florida, Tennessee was just six years removed from winning a national championship. The last time Tennessee beat Alabama, Nick Saban was still coaching the Miami Dolphins in the NFL. In short, it’s been a very, very long time since the Vols have made the rivalries between their two biggest rivals something to talk about. A series is only a rivalry if both teams are capable of trading wins every so often, and the Vols have failed to do that with both Florida and Alabama for the last decade.
If the Vols want to have the type of season many believe they can in 2016, a win over either Florida or Alabama is a must. Wins against both would be the best case scenario, but Tennessee needs to at least end one of those losing streaks to have a shot at winning the SEC East. And if Tennessee can end those losing streaks, they have a shot at ending two more droughts: The Vols haven’t won the SEC East since 2007 and haven’t won an SEC Championship since 1998.
The Vols have shown progress this season by ending a handful of their long losing streaks. But in order to take the biggest steps and become relevant on a national stage once again, the Vols have to end their longest streaks next season.