KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee has set its goals high this fall – and rightfully so after finishing 2015 on a six-game winning streak.
Only 13 other Tennessee teams ended the season on at least a six-game winning streak: 1914, 1930, 1938, 1941, 1942, 1950, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1985, 1989, 1995 and the national champions of 1998, who went 13-0.
Now comes the so-called hype. Some may call it hype, but others may call it realization of what Butch Jones has formed at Tennessee.
Jones told his team following a 45-6 Outback Bowl victory over Northwestern that “the foundation has been laid.”
Players took it a step further, encouraging fans to plan ahead for a return trip to Tampa in January 2017, for the national championship game.
SEC media members have taken notice of how Jones has turned around the program following the train wreck damage that Lane Kiffin and Derek Dooley left behind in four short years from 2009-2012.
In 2016, the damage seems to be erased.
From 1977-2008, Johnny Majors and Phillip Fulmer provided 31 years of winning football. During that time, the Vols fielded some of the program’s most memorable teams. Before Majors and Fulmer’s success, came the legendary Robert Neyland and his memorable teams.
The 2016 Volunteers have an opportunity to claim a spot beside these teams as one of the top five most memorable in Tennessee football history.
How high can they climb? There is no ceiling.
An SEC East title and win in Atlanta would most likely place the Volunteers in the College Football Playoff. Win that, and the Vols would have every right to claim their spot at the top of this list.
1) 1998 Volunteers: Tee Martin’s team won it all the year after Peyton Manning graduated. They finally beat Florida, and seemed destined to win it all by closing out close games against Syracuse, Florida and Arkansas. A win over Florida State in the inaugural BCS national championship game gave the program their second consensus national championship in addition to four other crowns.
2) 1985 Volunteers: No matter a Tennessee fan’s age, the phrase Sugar Vols is recognizable to all. Tennessee won the SEC championship in 1985, and had a date with Miami in the Sugar Bowl. A win would have provided the Hurricanes with a national championship, but Johnny Majors’ Sugar Vols pulled off the upset, winning 35-7. The Vols finished No. 4 in the final AP poll.
3) 1951 Volunteers: Championship-wise, the 1951 Vols won it all as consensus national champions despite losing the Sugar Bowl. The Vols finished 10-1 with a defense that posted five shutouts and gave up only 116 points.
4) 1997 Volunteers: Peyton Manning’s 1995 team finished 11-1 and ranked No. 3 in the country. Nobody could guarantee that Manning would stick around to see 1997, but he decided to come back for his senior season. Even though he couldn’t beat Florida, he led the Vols to a thrilling 30-29 victory over Auburn in the SEC championship game. Manning directing the UT band inside the Georgia Dome will always be etched in Tennessee history.
5) 1940 Volunteers: The 1940 Vols may have been better than the 1951 team. Both teams were national champions, although the 1951 team was consensus national champions, whereas the 1940 team was named national champions by the Dunkel and Williamson polls. The Vols only gave up 45 points in 1940, posting eight shutouts.
Team 120 has some work to do to be remembered as one of Tennessee’s five best of all time.
Source: Saturday Down South