Knocking off No. 1

With No. 1 ranked Kentucky coming to Thompson-Boling Arena on Tuesday night, how about a history lesson.

Tennessee has had 16 encounters with No.l ranked teams. Ten were against Kentucky, including the first nine, between 1949 and 1966. The others: South Carolina (1969), Florida (2007, 2014), Ohio State (2007), Memphis (2008) and Kansas (2010).

Kentucky, on Tuesday, will be only the second No. 1 to play Tennessee in Thompson-Boling Arena. The other was Kansas.

Here’s a look at Tennessee’s four wins over No.1 teams:

1966: On the final day of the regular season, the Vols upset Kentucky 69-62 in Armory-Fieldhouse. “Rupps Runts” would finish 27-2, their only other loss to Texas Western in the NCAA championship game. The Vols finished 19-8.

1969: On the opening day of the 1969-70 season, Ray Mears went to South Carolina and knocked off Frank McGuire’s top-ranked Gamecocks, 55-54. UT finished 16-9. South Carolina went 25-3 and won the ACC title at 14-0. The Gamecocks finished No. 6.

2008: The 2nd-ranked Vols beat No. 1 Memphis 66-62 in FedExForum in what was ESPN’s most-watched college basketball game ever. Tennessee became the new No. 1 but lost at Vanderbilt in its next game. The Vols finished 31-5, won the SEC title and lost to Louisville in the Sweet 16. Memphis went 38-2, its only other loss to Kansas in the NCAA title game.

2010: UT stunned Kansas 76-68 in early January, a week after suspending four players, including starter Tyler Smith. Tennessee went on to a 28-9 record (with all the suspendees except Smith returning) and lost to Michigan State in the Elite 8. Kansas finished 33-3, was the NCAA tournament’s No. 1 overall seed but was upset by Northern Iowa in the second round.

Vols show me in ‘Show Me State’

Last Sunday morning, an ugly loss to Alabama fresh in my brain, I sat on the sports Source TV set and predicted Tennessee’s basketball men would go 0-2 this week. I elaborated that the Vols could probably beat Missouri if the game were in Knoxville, but not in Columbia. And that they wouldn’t beat Arkansas anywhere.

Wrong and wrong.

The Vols did beat No. 19 Arkansas in Thompson-Boling and I just watched them beat Mizzou 59-51 here in Columbia.

Vols 2-0. Me 0-2.

Both wins were impressive. But in my book road wins are especially impressive. Tennessee has won at Mississippi State and Missouri to get off to a surprising 3-1 SEC start. Now, Starkville and Mizzou might turn out to be the two least difficult venues to knock off a road win but that doesn’t mean they’re easy. A road win is a road win.

It was appropriate that Kevin Punter knocked down the big shot tonight, a 3-pointer with 4:48 to play to end a 17-6 Missouri rally and knot the score at 46-46. Punter, a junior from The Bronx, was briefly a Missouri commitment while playing last year at State Fair Community College down I-70 in Sedalia, Mo. Punter had committed to the Tigers when Frank Haith was the coach. When Haith bolted for Tulsa, new UT coach Donnie Tyndall swooped in and stole Punter. Mizzou’s “The Antlers” student section is next level at heckling. They were on Punter from the moment he came on the court to warm up for before tipoff. I asked him about it later. No big deal, he said. Just another game. Approach them all the same. Punter also made four free throws in the final 42 seconds. There wasn’t much heckling going on at that point.

One last note: Tennessee had never won in Columbia in three previous tries. Two of them were pre-SEC and the third was last year.

From Heisman to Tobacco Road

Dec. 17

With a few minutes to kill here at PNC Arena in Raleigh before the Vols and NC State tipoff, I’ll belatedly reveal my Heisman Trophy ballot.
It’s boring this year. I’ve thrown out some wild-card votes in years past (Terrell Buckley, Bryant McKinnie). This year, however, it was strictly chalk: 1-Marcus Mariotta. 2-Melvin Gordon. 3-Amari Cooper. In a past era I was averse to voting for a quarterback who racked up a ton of passing yards. But the position has changed. I’ve got no problem voting for a quarterback who makes plays with both his arm and his legs. In fact, I like Mariotta so much I voted for him last year, too.

Meanwhile, on to hoops …

The Vols have their hands full tonight in their first true road game. But I’ll save that for the column. It occurs to me that other than the UCLA trophy case at Pauley Pavilion, nowhere is there a greater collection of NCAA basketball tournament hardware in close proximity than here in the Triangle.

North Carolina has five: 1957, 1982, 1993, 2005, 2009.
Duke has four: 1991, 1992, 2001, 2010.
N.C. State has two: 1974, 1983.

And they’re all within a few miles of each other.

Big 12 bests SEC again

Tennessee did its part Saturday in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge, but the bottom line was already settled.

The Vols’ 65-64 win over Kansas State left the Big 12 a 6-4 victory in the second annual challenge between the two conferences. The SEC closed strong Saturday, with South Carolina routing previously unbeaten Oklahoma State.

At least the SEC improved on last year’s 7-3 loss.

Here’s the breakdown for 2014:

The SEC wins:

LSU over West Virginia
Kentucky over Texas
South Carolina over Oklahoma State.
Tennessee over Kansas State.

The Big 12 wins:

Kansas over Florida.
TCU over Ole Miss
Oklahoma over Missouri
Texas Tech over Auburn
Iowa State over Arkansas
Baylor over Vanderbilt

SEC/Big 12 Challenge, Round 2

The second annual SEC/Big 12 Challenge is off and running. Perhaps you missed the opening shots, a late-night 46-44 Texas Tech win over Auburn in Lubbock on Wednesday night. Bruce Pearl was apologetic about letting down the SEC. The AP story noted that Pearl declined to participate in the postgame handshake line. He might have been upset about his team’s poor showing or perhaps he and Tubby Smith have an old grudge from the days when they were border rivals.

Tennessee gets in the mix Saturday at home against Kansas State.

The Big 12 won the inaugural challenge 7-3. The SEC’s only wins came from Alabama, Missouri and Florida. Since the awkwardly named Big 12 has only 10 teams, four SEC schools have to sit out. Last year Tennessee was one of them. Georgia hasn’t joined in either year.

Here’s the schedule:
Thursday:
LSU at West Virginia
Baylor at Vanderbilt
Arkansas at Iowa State
TCU at Ole Miss

Friday
Texas at Kentucky
Florida at Kansas
Missouri at Oklahoma

Saturday
Oklahoma State at South Carolina
Kansas State at Tennessee

Vols’ bowl history, on hold, about to expand

Tennessee’s bowl history has been stuck at 49 since 2010. The Vols will finally hit the half-century mark in the next month after logging a 6-6 finish in 2014. For your bowl edification, here’s a breakdown on which bowls the Vols have played in since the 1938 Vols broke new ground beating Okalhoma in the Orange Bowl.

Tennessee is 25-24 in bowl play. That doesn’t officially count a 13-0 win over New York University on Dec. 3, 1931 in the New York Charity Classic.

(The year listed below refers to that football season, not necessarily the date the game was played)

Rose Bowl (0-2): L 1939; L 1944. Comment: In the Grandaddy of them all, the Vols have been outscored by Southern Cal by a combined 39-0.

Sugar Bowl (4-3): L 1940; W 1942; L 1951; L 1956; W 1970; W 1985; W 1990. Comment: Three undefeated teams lost in the Sugar (1940, 1951, 1956); but the 1985 win made up for a lot of disappointment.

Orange (1-3): W 1938; L 1946; L 1967; L 1997. Comment: A gimpy-kneed Peyton Manning was oddly irrelevant in his final college game, a 42-17 loss to Nebraska.

Cotton (3-3): W 1950; L 1952; L 1968; W 1989; L 2000; W 2004. Comment: General Neyland’s last game as head coach was a 16-0 loss to Texas on Jan. 1, 1953.

Fiesta (1-2): L 1990; W 1998; L 1999. Comment: In between losses to traditional powers Penn State and Nebraska, there was a pretty nice win over Florida State.

Peach/Chick-fil-A (1-4): L 1982; W 1987; L 2002; L 2003; L 2009: Comment: The only win was a 27-22 thriller over Indiana in Fulton County Stadium. Once the game moved to the Georgia Dome, the curse set in.

Hall of Fame/Outback (2-1): W 1992; L 2006; W 2007: Comment: After a 21-17 win over Wisconsin on Jan. 1, 2008, who would have guessed Tennessee wouldn’t win a bowl game for the next six (and counting) years.

Citrus/Capital One (4-1): W 1983; L 1993; W 1995; W 1996; W 2001. Comment: Steve Spurrier used to say you couldn’t spell Citrus without a U and a T, but this bowl has been very, very good to the Vols. By 2001, Vol fans were jaded and saw Orlando as a symbol of a season that fell short. The tune has changed by now.

Gator (3-2): W 1957; W 1966; L 1969; L 1973; W 1994. Comment: The ’94 Gator Bowl was moved from Jacksonville to Gainesville because of stadium renovation. A 45-23 win over Virginia Tech gave UT fans a rare opportunity to celebrate in The Swamp.

Liberty (3-0): W 1971; W 1974; W 1986. Comment: Arkansas fans of a certain age still grouse about Tennessee’s 14-13 win in 1971.

Bluebonnet (2-1): W 1965; W 1972; L 1979. Comment: Once there was a Bluebonnet Bowl in Houston. In 1979, Johnny Majors’ third season back at UT, the Vols finally made it to a bowl, losing 27-22 to Purdue.

Garden State (1-0): W 1981. Comment: This New Jersey bowl lasted only four years. The Vols closed it down with a 28-21 win over Wisconsin.

Sun (0-1): L 1984. Comment: The Vols blew a 21-0 halftime lead to Bobby Ross-coached Maryland, losing 28-27.

Music City (0-1): L 2010. Comment: Derek Dooley’s only bowl, a controversial 2OT loss to North Carolina — after which a 2011 rule, the 10-second run-off, was created to avoid a team that’s behind getting an extra snap at the end of a game due to committing a penalty.

No Vols, but plenty of Vol foes in Bracketology

Today (Thursday, Nov. 13) is the eve of college basketball season. So, why not a little Bracketology before even the first tip-off. Joe Lunardi’s first bracket is up on ESPN.com for consideration. No Vols, of course. Still, it’s a useful tool for getting an early handle on Tennessee’s schedule.

Here are Tennessee opponents who tip off with enough cred to get a mention in the early, early field of 65:

VCU (@Annapolis, Nov. 14) is a 4 seed.
Texas Southern (here Nov. 20) is a 16 seed, picked to win the SWAC bid as it did last year.
Kansas (possible foe in the Orlando Classic Nov. 27-30) is a 2 seed.
Kansas State (here Dec. 6) is an 8 seed.
Arkansas (here Jan. 13, @Jan. 27) is a 9 seed.
LSU (here Feb. 14, @March 4) is an 11 seed, reporting to Dayton for the First Four.
Kentucky (here Feb. 17) is a 1 seed.
Florida (@Feb. 28) is a 2 seed.

Basketball season arrives

Just when Tennessee’s football season is about to hit critical mass, there I was walking into Thompson-Boling Arena on Monday night. Job One: remembering how you go about covering a basketball game.
Fortunately, it came back to me quickly. I use a smaller notepad for basketball and I don’t need binoculars.
The Donnie Tyndall era started well enough. Considering UT’s personnel turnover and Pikeville’s NAIA national cred, I was thinking an upset wasn’t out of the realm of possibility. No sweat, after an anxious few minutes, the Vols got some separation and won easily, 80-62.
I wrote a column about Armani Moore leading the scoring with 17 points on 8-of-10 shooting.
Here are some other observations, in no particular order.

Pikeville wasn’t as dangerous as I thought. The Bears had one terrific player, K.K. Simmons, who scored 30 points, but that was about the only threat.

The Vols shot 61 percent from the field. Didn’t see that coming. They did most of their damage near the basket, thanks in part to a considerable size advantage.

The Vols finished 5-of-14 from 3-point range, 35.7 percent. They started hot but missed their final five or six tries.

Tyndall shuffled players on and off the floor much more so than in a real game. It was hard for anyone or any unit to get a flow going. Tariq Owens got 8 minutes, everyone else at least 11.

Detrick Mostella scored 11 points. He was 4-of-8 overall, 2-of-5 from 3-point range. Here are excerpts of what he had to say afterward:
“Yeah, I pulled a couple down that I would have took in high school, but that’s for the best of us. I pulled it down because I know we need good shots. I don’t want to force it with 35 [seconds] on the shot clock. I’m just waiting patiently for my shots because I know they are going to come off the draw-and-kick. We drive the ball, we get open shots.”

Dominick Woodson played 12 minutes (he started), was 3-of-4 shooting and had five rebounds. Pikeville had only one player who approximated Woodson’s size.

Robert Hubbs, seeing his first action since December 2013, wasn’t a big factor. He was largely invisible in the first half, then gradually got more involved. He finished with 8 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists in 24 minutes.

The crowd was listed at 13,135 but might have been half that size.

A word about losing streaks

As this week plays out, Tennessee fans will hear and read about the Vols’ seven-game losing streak to Alabama. It’s a familair theme in these down times for Vol Nation.

In fact, the Vols hold winning streaks against only two SEC rivals at the moment: two wins against Kentucky and one against South Carolina.

Here’s a rundown of the current losing streaks against 11 SEC schools. Somebody had to do it, so I did.

Florida: Losing streak 10 games. Last win was 2004, 30-28, in Knoxville when UT was ranked 13th and Florida 11th.

Alabama: Losing streak 7 games. Last win was 2006, 16-13, in Knoxville. Tennessee was No. 7; Alabama was unranked.

Auburn: Losing streak 6 games. Last win was 1999, 24-0, in Knoxville. Tennessee was No. 7; Auburn was unranked.

Georgia: Losing streak 5 games. Last win was 2009, 45-19, in Knoxville. Neither team was ranked.

LSU: Losing streak 4 games. Last win was 2005, 30-27 in OT, in Baton Rouge. Vols were No. 10, LSU No. 4.

Vanderbilt: Losing steak 2 games. Last win was 2011, 27-21 in OT, in Knoxville. Neither team was ranked.

Missouri: Losing streak 2 games. UT has never beaten Mizzou. The two had never played before the Tigers joined the SEC in 2012.

Ole Miss: Losing streak 1 game. Last win was 2010, 52-14, in Knoxville. Neither team was ranked.

Mississippi State: Losing streak 1 game. Last win was 2008, 34-3, in Knoxville. Neither team was ranked.

Arkansas: Losing streak 1 game. Last win was 2007, 34-13, in Knoxville. UT was No. 22; Arkansas was unranked.

Vols Homecoming: the Good, the Bad, the Ugly

Does it seem like Homecoming isn’t as big a deal as it once was back in the day? Perhaps that observation is merely relative to your humble correspondent’s aging. Maybe it never was that big a deal.
But Tennessee’s football history is chock full of interesting Homecoming history. Here, in observance of 2014 Homecoming, is a slice of it:

A bunch of GOOD things have happened to the Vols on Homecomings past. I picked a top five.

1. 1998. A 37-13 victory over UAB on Nov. 7 was rather humdrum. But circumstances beyond the borders of Neyland Stadium led to the Vols moving up in the next week’s AP poll from No. 2 to No. 1. It was nearly a short stay. The following week the Clint Stoerner miracle occurred and the Vols stayed No. 1 with a dramatic 28-24 win over Arkansas. In less than two months Tennessee would be crowned national champion.

2. 1990. The Vols hadn’t played Florida in five years and would not become designated SEC East rivals for two more years. In a clash of top-10 teams, it was a great night for Tennessee thanks to a 45-3 demolition of Steve Spurrier’s first Florida team.

3. 1951. Tennessee essentially won the national championship by beating Vanderbilt 35-27 before a homecoming crowd at Shields-Watkins Field. The Vols came into the game ranked No. 1 and stayed there thanks to the regular-season ending win over the Commodores. In those days, the polls closed before bowl season. The Vols were declared consensus national champions. That they lost to Maryland in the Sugar Bowl was irrelevant.

4. 1959. You’ve heard of “The Stop,” of course. Did you know it happened at Homecoming? The Vols upset No. 1 LSU 14-13 by stopping Heisman Trophy winner Billy Cannon’s two-point conversion run. Cannon still doesn’t see it that way. I’ve seen film. It’s hard to tell.

5. 1939. You’ve heard about Johnny Butler’s run, of course. Also Homecoming. The No. 5 Vols beat No. 8 Alabama 21-0. Butler’s weaving, 56-yard run was newsreel material, the equivalent of SportsCenter’s Top Plays today. Grantland Rice is said to have called it the greatest run he ever saw.

Here are five BAD ones, too.

1. 2013: No. 7 Auburn underscored the perils of scheduling SEC opponents on Homecoming. The Tigers ripped the Vols 55-23.

2. 2002: What was UT thinking scheduling Miami for Homecoming? The U just happened to be ranked No. 1 and crushed the Vols 26-3.

3. 1983: Riding a six-game win streak that included a 41-34 upset of Alabama at Legion Field, the Vols laid a Homecoming egg, losing to Ole Miss, 13-10.

4. 1979: “What are Rutgers?” Only the oldtimers get the significance of that question. If you don’t know, ask your dad. Anyway, Rutgers showed the Vols what they were with a 13-7 upset.

5. 1973: Georgia won a 35-31 thriller, an upset of the 11th-ranked Vols, that left UT fans disenchanted with Bill Battle in his fourth season. He would last three more but it was downhill.

The UGLY

2008. Wyoming 13-7. One of the ugliest days ever in Neyland Stadium. The shocking loss came days after UT announced Phillip Fulmer was out, effective at the end of the season.

Finally, here are a few Homecoming leftovers:
(UT’s media guide designates Homecoming games only as far back as 1919)

1945, 1951: The latest Homecoming games, both on Dec. 1 against Vanderbilt.
1958. Vols upset No. 7 Ole Miss 18-16, one week after a stunning loss to Chattanooga.
2000, 2006: The earliest Homecoming games, both on Sept. 23.
1994. Peyton Manning’s first career start, a 10-9 win over Washington State.
1997. Last time UT beat a ranked opponent on Homecoming, 44-20 over No. 24 Southern Miss.
1999. Disaster averted. UT rallied to beat Memphis 17-16.
2000. A UT scoring record, 70-3 over Louisiana-Monroe.
2007. Last time UT was ranked on Homecoming. The No. 24 Vols beat ULL 59-7.
2012. A 55-48 win over Troy set a combined scoring record (103 points) for Neyland Stadium … and produced a combined 1,439 yards.