With Tennessee vs. Memphis basketball rivalry renewed, schools should consider annual matchup in football
KNOXVILLE — Tennessee coach Rick Barnes and Memphis coach Penny Hardaway confirmed the news Monday that fans had been longing for: Both schools agreed to renew their basketball rivalry with the installment of three games beginning next season.
901 / 615 look alive
— Tennessee Basketball (@Vol_Hoops) March 28, 2018
Barnes, who led the Vols to a share of the SEC regular season title after being previously ranked No. 13 in the preseason standings, and Hardaway, who took over at his alma mater just last week, have generated a plethora of optimism — and both coaches facing each other in the near future makes for an intriguing matchup.
With so many wanting Tennessee and Memphis to clash in basketball, maybe it is time for officials to look at how those same fans would feel with a home-and-home series in football once again. They’ve met 23 times — UT leads 22-1 — but not since 2010.
Tennessee needn’t look far for how successful in-state rivalries are in football. Especially in this region of the country. Sure, the Vols have Vanderbilt. But that’s part of their conference slate, and the two teams share a division.
Besides that, there are only three FBS programs in the state and the last non-SEC in-state opponent Tennessee played was FCS in Tennessee Tech in 2016, with a home game versus East Tennessee State slated for this season.
The Tigers would not only add an out-of-conference team to Tennessee’s schedule, they’d be a very formidable opponent, especially with head coach Mike Norvell, who has had back-to-back 8- and 10-win seasons, earning him a contract that has seemingly put him in it for the long run.
Memphis is going to be around awhile.
Florida has Florida State. Georgia has Georgia Tech. South Carolina has Clemson. Even Kentucky and Louisville have made for a great in-state rivalry in recent years.
Granted, a Tennessee-Memphis matchup won’t hold a candle to the history and pageantry of other SEC teams and their in-state foes. And yes, neither team shares the same relatively close proximity as the other rival schools do, but it could create something the Tennessee-Vanderbilt rivalry doesn’t have.
And while Memphis might not compete at the Power 5 level, the Tigers may be well on their way, as talks of the Tigers bolting the AAC for the Big 12 resume seemingly each offseason.
Even before Norvell took over in 2016, former head coach Justin Fuente had the Tigers competing at a high level. In 2015, they knocked off No. 13 Ole Miss 37-25 and this past season, they came within a few plays of beating UCF on their home turf in the AAC title game.
Memphis going toe-to-toe with big brother isn’t anything new, either.
Although Tennessee has dominated the series, the Tigers pulled off a massive upset in 1996 when they topped Peyton Manning and the visiting No. 6 Volunteers. Three years later, they almost played the role of spoiler again, dropping a close 17-16 contest to the defending national champs at Neyland Stadium.
While adding the Tigers into their permanent schedule rotation might be a bit premature for now — seeing as how it remains to be seen how long they can maintain their success — having Memphis on Tennessee’s schedule more often sure seems like it would be a lot of fun. Maybe they can even go the way of the basketball programs and have a neutral site showdown at Nissan Stadium in Nashville to open or close the season.
Regardless, Memphis is an up and comer, and if the Tigers continue to produce 9-10 win seasons, a rivalry between them and the Tri-Star State’s premier program would make for some quality football.