When the Vols started the 2019 season with losses to Georgia State and BYU, Vol fans were expecting the worst. When Tennessee fell to 1-4 on the year, most fans assumed a bowl berth was out of the question, and UT looked destined for one of the worst seasons in school history.
Not only did none of that happen, but Tennessee finished the season as one of the hottest teams in college football.
The Vols bounced back from their disastrous beginning to close out the season winning seven of their final eight games, including six-straight wins to close out the season. After starting 1-4, Tennessee finished the year 8-5, their best record since finishing 9-4 in 2016.
With that strong finish, Tennessee was a threat to finish inside the top 25 of all the finalized polls at the end of the season. The Vols didn’t quite make it into the top 25, but they got close.
After LSU defeated Clemson 42-25 in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game on Monday night, both the AP and Coaches Polls released their finalized top 25 for the 2019 season. While Tennessee didn’t crack the top 25, they received votes in both polls.
The Vols received eight votes in the AP Poll, effectively placing them 34th in the final poll. In the Coaches Poll, Tennessee also received eight votes, finishing with the 35th-most points.
LSU was the unanimous No. 1 overall team in both polls, and the SEC got five teams in the top 25 of the final AP and Coaches Polls. The Vols weren’t the only SEC team to finish in the “receiving votes” category, either. Texas A&M had the most votes of any team not in the top 25 of the AP Poll, and Kentucky finished with two votes in the AP Poll. The Aggies and Wildcats also received votes from the Coaches Poll.
All in all, Tennessee ended up playing three teams that finished in the top 25 of the AP Poll, and all three of those teams finished in the top 10. The Vols faced off with No. 4 Georgia, No. 6 Florida, and No. 8 Alabama this season.
Tennessee’s stellar end to their 2019 season has caught the attention of the national media heading into the offseason, as the Vols are already appearing on much-too-early top 25 rankings for the 2020 season. ESPN has the Vols at No. 25 in their far-too-early preseason poll, and Stewart Mandel of The Athletic has the Vols at No. 19 in his early top 25.
The Vols are likely to get a lot of attention this offseason thanks to their recovery in the 2019 season and with another good recruiting class being brought in for the 2020 cycle. It won’t reach the levels of the 2016 offseason for Tennessee, but the Vols will likely be a darkhorse pick to compete in the SEC East for the upcoming season.
After the way Tennessee’s 2019 season started, getting anywhere close to the top 25 in the final polls seemed like a dream. Now, it’s a reality.