It’s obviously an exciting time for Tennessee football. The Vols are 3-0 and in the top 12 for the first time since 2016. ESPN College GameDay is heading to Rocky Top this weekend for the showdown with the Florida Gators. The last time UT hosted was also in 2016 against Florida.
However, what’s crazier is the last time the Vols were a part of College GameDay. The position they’re in now is a massive rise from a fall that started during the last College GameDay game and, yes, that was also in 2016.
You have to go back to October 8, 2016. Tennessee football was louder than ever with Joshua Dobbs at quarterback and Butch Jones as head coach. They 5-0 and in the top 10, visiting the also undefeated Texas A&M Aggies, which was led by Kevin Sumlin.
This was the third College GameDay the Vols were a part of that year, following Florida and the Battle of Bristol at Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tennessee, against the Virginia Tech Hokies. Between that year and the end of 2006, they were only part of one GameDay, a 2012 home loss to Florida.
You can’t overstate how great the time was for the Vols. By that point, they were a week away from their legendary Hail Mary touchdown pass from Dobbs to Jauan Jennings to beat the Georgia Bulldogs on the road. A week before that, they had broken an 11-game losing streak for Florida.
In addition to being 2-0 in the SEC with two crucial East wins, the Vols’ victory against VT was in front of the biggest crowd ever. They were a year off their first nine-win season and top 25 since 2007, and the show appeared to have come under Butch Jones, going from 5-7 in 2013 to 7-6 in 2014 and 9-4 in 2015.
From there, the highest of the highs began to slide into the lowest of the lows. The entire GameDay team chose Texas A&M. Tennessee football lost to them in overtime, despite fighting late. It was a standout performance by Alvin Kamara. The story isn’t really what happened in that game.
Rated No. 9 at the time, the Vols remained in the top 10. They lost to an undefeated top 10 SEC West team on the road and were 5-1. Who would panic about that? Well, the team was starting to get severely hampered because of Jones’ lack of conditioning.
A week later, the Vols lost 49-10 to the Alabama Crimson Tide. All hopes of the College Football Playoff were dashed at that point. Still, UT was going for a bye to get healthy, and they were still favorites to win the East. All they had to do was win.
Well, coming out of the goodbye, they were shocked by South Carolina on the road and a Jake Bentley who was still in high school. So Jalen Hurd, the first award-winning recruit of the Jones era, was transferred. A few weeks later, Jones tried to justify the meltdown with his “Champions of Life” comment.
No East would be won, but Tennessee football could still get to a New Year’s bowl if it won. This also ended with a loss to the Vanderbilt Commodores. The Vols finished what should have been a year in the top 10 with a 9-4 record and a disappointing victory at the Music City Bowl.
Of course, the following year, Jones’ program collapsed. UT was 4-8. He was fired. A fan backlash nullified his replacement, Greg Schiano, and saw new athletic director John Currie fired. Phillip Fulmer launched a coup, took over as AD and hired Jeremy Pruitt.
Three years later, the Vols fired Pruitt over serious NCAA violations after two missed seasons in three years. They brought in Danny White, who signed Josh Heupel and took them 7-6 last year. There were no top 25 submissions during this time.
Now, though, Tennessee football seems to be making a comeback, which is why GameDay took notice. However, ironically, they’re back from a meltdown that started in 2016 during the last game they played with College GameDay in attendance. Can they stay behind this time?