Ten years ago, Stewart Mandel, a nationally-acclaimed sports writer who now works for Fox Sports, compiled a ranking of college football teams based on historical prestige. Mandel broke down the rankings into four categories: Kings, Barons, Knights, and Peasants.
A decade ago, Mandel had the Vols listed as one of the 13 kings of college football (though he did note he had some hesitation putting the Vols there). Fast forward to now, and Mandel has updated his list. And Tennessee is no longer a king.
Mandel’s updated list now has Tennessee listed as a Baron of college football. The Vols are one of 11 schools listed in this second category, and they’re joined by Auburn, Georgia, Michigan State, Nebraska, Oregon, Stanford, Texas A&M, UCLA, Virginia Tech, and Wisconsin.
At the end of the article, Mandel notes that Clemson and LSU supplanted both Tennessee and Nebraska as Kings, relegating the Vols and Cornhuskers (who oddly enough played each other in the Music City Bowl this past December) into the Baron category. He also points out that only 16 of the 66 schools moved tiers in the last decade.
Mandel stated back before the 2007 season that he had some reservations about putting the Vols in the King category, but he did so anyway. “The Vols would have been a no-brainer 10 years ago,” Mandel wrote, “but they have fallen off the map a bit lately. In the end, I figured those 100 fans in Montana still know “Rocky Top,” the checkered end zones and that Peyton Manning went there.”
The Vols would have a solid season in 2007, going 10-4 and winning the SEC East. Since 2007, however, the Vols have gone through arguably the worst decade in program history. Tennessee has a record of 58-55 and hasn’t won the East in that span. The Vols have had as many losing seasons as seasons above .500 over the last ten years.
All of that was enough for Tennessee to no longer be considered a King in the college football world according to Mandel.
Thanks to their strong history and rich tradition, Tennessee should never fall below the Baron tier Mandel has them in now. But the Vols have work to do over the next decade if they want to be considered one of the elite again by the national media.