Where Tennessee Football Stands Today
By Mark Nagi
Well, the regular season is now complete for the Tennessee Volunteers. The Vols finished at 8-4 and now wait for word on their bowl game destination (which was not yet known when The Focus went to press).
There are more than a few UT fans who aren’t especially happy these days. Tennessee limped to the finish with blowout losses to Missouri and Georgia in November. They failed to start a winning streak against Alabama as that rivalry is once again in the Tide’s favor after a year of celebration in Knoxville. And there was also a loss at Florida that defies explanation except for the fact that the Vols typically play their worst football of the year against the Gators and have for most of the last two decades.
But I wonder if those fans remember what Tennessee football had been like for the last 15+ years. During that stretch, when the Vols were the perfect representation of SEC mediocrity, you could have only wished to be at the point when an 8-4 season was a downer. That’s the way it used to be during some of the Johnny Majors era and almost all of the Phillip Fulmer era.
The 2022 season truly spoiled Tennessee fans, a season in which they won 11 games, beat Florida, LSU and Alabama, plus an Orange Bowl victory over Clemson. They had the best offense in all of college football and finished with their best season in 21 years.
As that time frame suggests, seasons like 2022 don’t come around very often. They should be celebrated. Yes, there’s nothing wrong with wanting success and having high expectations for this program, but you shouldn’t discount the achievements of the 2023 campaign.
So where does Tennessee football go from here? Well, the road to the SEC championship game only gets tougher from here. Next season the SEC welcomes Texas and Oklahoma, two programs that were ranked in the top 12 in the college football playoff rankings last week. The Vols will play at Oklahoma next September. With the expansion some of the annual games have gone by the wayside but UT still will play Alabama and Georgia, the two most dominant teams in the conference. The Vols also play Florida, who again, Tennessee rarely plays well against when they line up against the Gators.
There are more major changes on the way not only for the Vols but for the entire sport. The College Football Playoff is expanding from four to 12 teams, opening the door for so many more teams. Should the Vols finish 10-2 in the regular season as they did in 2022, they’d be in position to earn a playoff berth.
There’s no reason that the Vols shouldn’t be in the mix more seasons than not… Josh Heupel is recruiting at a high level. Different NIL groups are not shy in wooing talent to Knoxville. The facilities get better and better. Neyland Stadium is on a 13-game sellout streak.
Yes, these are the good old days.
The state of Tennessee football is strong.
Does that mean that the Vols are destined for historic success over the next few years? Maybe. Maybe not. But at least they are in the conversation again.