Long suffering Tennessee football fans have seen victory snatched from the jaws of defeat oodles of times over the past several years.
Whether it was 13 men on the field at LSU, a bowl loss after a bowl victory against UNC or fumbling out of the end zone in overtime against Georgia two weeks ago, it’s truly seemed as if the program was cursed in the past 19 games against ranked opponents. The Vols were 0-19 in these contests.
These have truly been the times that try a Vol fan’s soul.
So as the final crucible moments of the game came into focus late against South Carolina, my family friend, Amanda, whose father lettered at Tennessee and did the Vol Walk that morning along with hundreds of other former players, was not going to take any chances. She wanted her voice to be heard, to stand and cheer as loudly as she could in Neyland Stadium. There was only one problem: Her three-year-old had fallen asleep. How can you stand and cheer with a sleeping three-year-old in your arms?
And since Neyland is filled with bleachers, she also worried that merely leaving her three-year-old sleeping on the bleachers might cause him to fall off onto the ground.
What could she do? This is when good ole fashioned Tennessee ingenuity kicked in.
She tied him to the bleachers as he slept.
And the Vols won. This is the kind of dedication it took to break the Fulmer firing curse.
On to the Starting 11.
1. It looks like it’s going to take Mizzou only two years to win the SEC East
That has to be tough for Kentucky, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt to stomach, the only three SEC teams that have not yet won their divisions and earned a trip to Atlanta. (Clearly, Texas A&M hasn’t won the division either, but the Aggies have been in the league for only two years now.)
That’s a stat worth trotting out there since many prognosticators said Mizzou would never win the SEC East.
By "never," they actually meant to say, "two years."
I’ve been pretty consistent in saying that Mizzou would outperform its historical football average in the SEC. A rising tide has truly lifted all SEC boats.
Mizzou dominated the Florida Gators from the opening snap until the final whistle, posting 500 yards of total offense to the Gators’ 151. As a result, the road to Atlanta runs through Columbia, Mo.
Provided Mizzou can beat South Carolina this weekend — and I think it can — the Tigers will be in Atlanta.
This is no smoke-and-mirrors run, either. The Tigers are one of two teams to have won every game by 15 or more points — Oregon is the other — and should beat South Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky to run their record to 10-0 headed on the road to Oxford.
Is it possible we could end up with 12-0 Missouri playing 12-0 Alabama in Atlanta?
2. Florida State beat Clemson worse than any top-three team has been beaten at home in a very long time
How long has it been since a beating like this happened?
No one can find a record of a top-three team losing by more points at home than Clemson did on Saturday night.
This was as crushing of a home loss as I can ever imagine witnessing. Clemson fans, who had been chirping on Twitter about "disrespecting the Tigers," have gone completely silent.
Remember that Clemson fans were planning on setting a record for the loudest stadium ever? I’m betting that didn’t happen.
Once the team ran on the field, it was all downhill for Tiger fans.
3. Since the Texas A&M game, Alabama has outscored all opponents 201-16
Take out the Texas A&M game and Bama has beaten the other six teams on its schedule 236-26.
Imagine if Johnny Manziel had been suspended for the Alabama game. The Tide win in College Station by at least three touchdowns, right?
Then we’re talking about this Alabama defense as being one of the most dominant of all time.
It still might be.
4. Baylor continues to roll, hanging 70 on another team
Yet, amazingly, many are still not buying into the Bears’ success.
Ask Vegas, which continues to lose on Baylor games because the casinos just can’t set the line high enough. Vegas believes.
Plus, this defense is not that bad, either.
Baylor’s turn on the national stage really starts on Nov. 7 when Oklahoma rolls into Waco. Those of you who haven’t watched Baylor play yet are going to be stunned by how good they are. Just wait.
5. Let’s grade the SEC’s first-year head coaches
So far Gus Malzahn and Butch Jones both get A’s.
Malzahn has Auburn 6-1 and has won every close game his Tigers have played while recruiting pretty well.
Meanwhile, Jones is a Aaron Murray touchdown pass with five seconds remaining away from Tennessee controlling the SEC East even with a loss to Alabama. Think about this for a minute. The Vols almost have the tiebreak over Georgia and South Carolina and we’re a single play away from saying the Tennessee at Missouri game would decide the SEC East.
Combine better success on the field than expected with a recruiting class that will definitely end up in the top five in the nation — and potentially higher — and you’re talking about as good of a performance as is possible for Jones in his first 10 months at Tennessee.
I’d give Mark Stoops a B- because Kentucky is just awful on the field, so it’s wrong to expect much in the way of results. But Stoops has recruited at a level never seen before in the Bluegrass state, notching a top-10 class for the Cats.
Finally, Bret Bielema, presently leading his team on the wrong side of a 104-0 scoring run, gets a D.
As if getting drilled by teams each week wasn’t tough enough, Bielema has the 11th-best recruiting class in the SEC.
Some Arkansas fans may feel like a D is too generous.
6. According to RJ Bell at Pregame.com, a $100 money line bet on five SEC underdogs would have paid more than $63,000
That is, if you’d taken Tennessee, Missouri, Vanderbilt, Auburn and Ole Miss all as underdogs to win last week, you’d be a rich man right now.
I took only Mizzou on the money line, but I had three of these underdogs covering. And I should have had Tennessee covering too if I hadn’t allowed South Carolina’s destruction of Arkansas to make me change my pick.
As for Ole Miss, I completely didn’t see that one coming.
Props to the Rebels for getting the win, but LSU completely choked away that game. There is no way possible that LSU should have ever been down 17-0 to anyone in the SEC other than Alabama, much less Ole Miss.
7. Florida’s streak of 22 straight bowl games may be in jeopardy
Look out, the Gators still play Georgia, at South Carolina and host Florida State.
And don’t sleep on Vandy coming into Gainesville and winning that game, either.
The Commodores got their first top-25 win of the James Franklin era last week, coming from 14 down in the fourth quarter with a backup quarterback to beat Georgia. That win pretty much solidifies three straight bowl games for Franklin’s Dores.
As for Muschamp at Florida, it’s not going to be a fun offseason in Gainesville.
8. Mizzou and Texas A&M are 13-10 in their first 23 SEC games
Mizzou is 5-6, and Texas A&M is 8-4.
Both schools have been great additions to the conference, but fans of other conferences have been using both teams’ successes as evidence that the SEC is overrated.
So it’s worth noting that 13-10 conference record.
Having said that, remember when some pundits opined that the Big 12 had gotten bettter by adding West Virginia and TCU to replace Missouri and Texas A&M?
So far this year, WVU and TCU are a combined 6-8. Mizzou and A&M are a combined 12-2.
9. All schedules are not created equal
Based on present rankings, Tennessee will play six top-11 ranked teams this year. Six!
And the Vols will play seven ranked teams overall, a feat equaled only by 2004 North Carolina, 2010 Alabama and 2011 LSU.
Putting that Vol schedule into context, Ohio State, 19-0 under Urban Meyer, has not played a single top-15 team during that stretch and won’t play any during his first 24 games.
During that same 24 game stretch in the SEC, Tennessee will play nine top-15 teams. That stat is just wild.
Remember, all college football schedules are not created equal. Far from it.