BY: Ryan Moreland (@ryanmoreland)
On October 14th of 2021, the 1-6 Tennessee Volunteers hosted the 4-3 Florida Gators in the final week of Season 12. The Gators came into the game favored by 17.5 points, but the Volunteers had other plans. Tennessee forced four turnovers in that game and finished their season with an impressive upset. They didn’t know it then, but that would be the last Tennessee victory for quite some time.
330 days, nearly three CFSL seasons, and 22 consecutive Tennessee losses have come and gone since the win over the Gators. During the streak, 13 different opponents have beaten the Volunteers by a total of 467 points. The 22 losses have included blowouts, like Alabama beating them 78-10 earlier this season. It has also included tight games, like the three-point loss to Texas A&M that started the streak. Whether by a lot or by a little, the streak has endured. When the streak started the MAC had just left the CFSL, Kentucky and WVU were brand new teams, and the PIT was just announced.
However, the streak has not killed the optimism in Knoxville. When asked where he expects his team to finish next season Athletic Director Logan Mitchell said, “…a winning record and verge of [the] playoffs is not a 100% no for us.”
Mitchell took over as the AD of the Volunteers before Season 14. At the time, the team was eight games into its losing streak. He signed onto a team that had little hope and even fewer players. “When I took over, we had 20ish players ghost or transfer…we were in a deficit going into recruiting,” said Mitchell. Among those transfers were Texas A&M quarterback Terrell Allen, Wisconsin WR Maleko Nomura, Ohio State TE Joe Adams, and Oregon SS Jojo Vazquez. There were far too many to list them all, but it is clear the Volunteers lost a lot of talent. There was so much player turnover during the time that there are only three players on the current Tennessee roster that were around for the last win over Florida: QB Lee Potter, DT Al Bigsby, and CB Terry Walther. The gutted Volunteer team went on to lose every game in Season 14.
Season 15 has been the same for the Volunteers, but Mitchell takes the blame for that. “As for Season 15, that was a playbook issue on my part, which I can guarantee will never happen again,” he said. When the Volunteers started the season with a four-point loss to a talented Clemson team many thought the streak would soon. However, that remains the closest that Tennessee has come to a victory this season. But Mitchell made it clear that they were not losing because of a lack of talent.
As one can imagine, recruiting has been a challenge for Mitchell and his coaching staff during the streak. “I think a lot of people look at [the] previous season record and that’s the tail-end of the discussion…on how successful a team can be.” However, Mitchell and his staff have still been able to coax big names into coming to Knoxville. This offseason they landed DT Charles Davis, who was the 6th-ranked transfer in the CFSL. He was the biggest name in a class that had plenty of upside. “We manage to bring in really talented guys because of our culture we’ve built and the appeal of helping turn around a once great program,” said Mitchell.
And a once-great program it was. The Volunteers were one of the original eight teams that started the league. After a losing season in year one, the Volunteers had winning seasons for the next three years. They were so good that Tennessee was crowned the Season 3 Champions. However, the greatness was gone as quickly as it had come. The team folded after Season 4 and didn’t reappear until Season 11.
Now the Volunteers are still searching for their first win in almost a calendar year. There is plenty of hope that the streak will soon end. The Volunteers have two games left before the end of Season 15. The first is a home stand against the 2-3 Auburn Tigers. However, it is the second game that many believe will end the streak. In the final week of the season, the Volunteers will travel to Athens to face the win-less Georgia Bulldogs. The Tennessee faithful are hoping that game will be the start of a new streak.