For decades, Tennessee owned Vanderbilt in football. From 1983 to 2004, the Vols never lost to the Commodores in football. In fact, even after losing to them in 2005, Tennessee would rattle off another six-game winning streak over the Commodores from 2006 through 2012. Vanderbilt controlled the series in the early 1900s, but only nine of their 32 all-time wins against Tennessee came between 1928 and 2005.
Tennessee used to dominate Vanderbilt. But the key phrase there is “used to.”
Over the last six seasons, the Vols have seen their dominance over Vanderbilt come to an end. The Commodores have beaten Tennessee in four of the last six seasons and currently own a two-game winning streak over the Vols. And three of Vanderbilt’s four victories over the last six years have come by double digits.
Vol fans have grown understandably frustrated by Tennessee’s inability to beat “little brother” like they used to. And new UT head coach Jeremy Pruitt understands that frustration.
Pruitt was asked about Tennessee’s “rivalry” with Vanderbilt at SEC Media Days on Wednesday. And he said it’s up to Tennessee to start doing their part not only in their in-state series with the Commodores, but with all their major conference rivalries as well.
“There’s obviously natural rivalries in this conference,” Pruitt said on Wednesday. “You talk about Tennessee-Vanderbilt, Tennessee-Georgia, Tennessee-Florida, Tennessee-Alabama. Years ago there was Tennessee-Auburn. We actually play all those guys this year. When another team is beating you on a regular basis, it don’t seem like the rivalry is probably that thick anymore.
“But one thing we gotta do, is we gotta do our part. And I think we will when it comes to that.”
Vanderbilt hasn’t been the only team within the SEC who has beaten up on Tennessee recently, though. The Vols currently have an 11-game losing streak to Alabama, have lost 12 of their last 13 contests against Florida, and haven’t beaten Auburn since 1999. The Vols beat Georgia in back-to-back years in 2015 and 2016, but last year’s 41-0 defeat at the hands of the Bulldogs was the most lopsided loss UT has ever experienced in Neyland Stadium, and Tennessee overall has lost six of their last eight games against Georgia.
Even South Carolina and Kentucky have experienced more success against Tennessee recently than they ever have in their past. The Gamecocks have won five of their last eight games against the Vols, and Kentucky has two wins in their last seven contests against Tennessee. That comes after losing 26 straight games to the Vols from 1985 through 2010.
Tennessee is coming off their first winless SEC season in school history last year, so a win over any SEC team this year will be a step upward for Pruitt and the Vols. But it’s clear Pruitt intends to get more than just one SEC victory in 2018, and he plans to make Tennessee competitive again in the conference.