Tennessee’s football program has had some slip-ups and mishaps along the way in its over 100-year existence. Every major college football program has. But there are a couple seasons that stand out more than others, and a recent list pointed out two of the most disheartening seasons in Tennessee history.
Jason Kirk of SB Nation compiled a list of the most overrated college football teams in the AP Poll Era, an era that spans nearly seven decades. Of the 67 entries on that list, Tennessee appears twice. The 2005 Vols and 1988 Vols are highlighted for their failure to live up to high preseason hopes.
Kirk has little to say about the 2005 Vols other than that a preseason ranking of No. 3 and ending the season with a 5-6 record is all the justification needed for that team to take the top spot for that season. That Tennessee team infamously was split on who should start at quarterback, then injuries and poor quarterback play derailed the season even after the largest comeback in Vol history happened when Tennessee charged back in overtime to defeat No. 4 LSU 30-27. That would be the lone highlight of that season, however, as the Vols would lose four straight games from October 8th to November 5th. They also lost to Vanderbilt for the first time since 1982.
The 1988 Vols didn’t start the season ranked as highly as the 2005 team, but they ended with the same record as the 2005 squad.
Tennessee began the 1988 season as the No. 17 team in the country but then ended up with a disappointing 5-6 record. As Kirk puts it, the Vols went from a top 20 start to “losing every game before October 22, going from No. 17 to 5-6, and beating nobody better than 6-5 Memphis. At the end of a 38-6 loss to Auburn, Tigers coaches were urging their players not to score.”
The 1988 Vols’ season was truly a bizarre one, as Tennessee started out 0-6 but would win the final five games of their season. Aside from losing to ranked SEC foes Georgia, LSU, Auburn, and Alabama, Tennessee also lost to Duke and Washington State.
The Vols have two teams on the list, but they are far from the most frequent SEC team to appear in the article. Arkansas appeared three times on the list while Auburn appeared four times, tying them for the second-most appearances on the list. Florida and Alabama also appear twice like the Vols.