The common phrase to throw around as a Vol fan when anything goes well for the Vols is “it feels like ’98,” which is a reference to Tennessee’s undefeated National Championship season in 1998. Many fans were jokingly (and not so jokingly) saying that very phrase at the start of this season when the Vols were 5-0 and had just defeated Georgia on the road with a Hail Mary as time expired.
Now with just a game remaining in the regular season, it no longer feels like ’98 for the Vols. In fact, it feels much more like 1992 for Tennessee.
Tennessee beat both Florida and Georgia this season. It marked the first time since 2004 that the Vols had defeated their two biggest division rivals in the same year. And in 2004, the Vols won the SEC East. Just like they did in 1998 when they beat those two teams in the same season as well.
But things went differently in 1992. The Vols beat the Gators and Bulldogs but managed to lose the division race thanks to losses to two SEC West schools and South Carolina in the East. Just like this season.
This year will mark the first time since 1992 that Tennessee has beaten both Georgia and Florida and not won the SEC East. That year was the first year of divisional play, and Florida went on to win the East and Alabama the West. Once again, just like this season.
The Vols started out 5-0 that season with wins over Georgia, Florida, and LSU in conference play. But then came a rough stretch in October after the LSU game to start the month, and Tennessee lost back-to-back games against Arkansas and Alabama to put their East title hopes in jeopardy.
Tennessee had a bye week after their loss to No. 4 Alabama. Then they traveled to Columbia, South Carolina to take on the Gamecocks. And they lost 24-23.
The Vols wouldn’t lose again that season, but it wouldn’t matter because Florida only ended up with two SEC losses. Which meant the Gators ended up winning the East despite losing to Tennessee.
The similarities between this season and the 1992 season are uncanny. Take away the coaching controversy between Johnny Majors and Phillip Fulmer, and these two seasons have played out very similarly. There’s the 5-0 start with wins over Florida and Georgia. Then there’s back-to-back losses to SEC West opponents before a bye week. Then there’s the loss to South Carolina on the road after a bye week. And all that ended up costing Tennessee the East crown both years.
That season, the Vols went on to play No. 16 Boston College in the Hall of Fame Bowl (which is now the Outback Bowl) and won, giving them a 9-3 final record (they only played 11 regular season games back then). Right now, the Vols are currently 8-3 and could be in line to play anywhere from the Sugar Bowl to the Citrus Bowl to the Music City Bowl depending on how the rest of the season plays out.
After a stellar start, many Vol fans felt like this was finally the year to get back to national prominence. And they had good reason to believe so. Tennessee ended an 11-year drought against Florida in dramatic fashion and beat Georgia on an inconceivable last second play. Now, those games seem like many months ago.
Forget ’98; this season has Vol fans feeling like it’s 1992 all over again.