Tennessee’s 2018 season can’t be considered a success considering the Vols finished with another losing record. However, there were certainly some highlights.
The Vols beat two ranked teams, Auburn and Kentucky, and made a strong run at a third before letting the South Carolina game slip away. Considering how far the Vols have fallen, beating three ranked teams in a season would have been an incredible feat. Beating two ranked teams was respectable enough, especially in Year 1 under a first-time head coach.
Here are the top moments from the 2018 season:
1. The Auburn win
Timing was everything for the Vols when it upset No. 21 Auburn. The Tigers, who had national championship aspirations, had already lost to LSU before being upset by Mississippi State the week before they played the Vols. With all championship hopes out the window, the door was open for an upset. The Vols took advantage. After a 2-3 start, the Vols were able to claw out a 30-24 win, notch their first SEC win since November 2016, which happened to be on the road, and even their record at 3-3.
2. The Kentucky win
Yet again, good fortune helped the Vols in their second win over a ranked team, this time No. 11 Kentucky. The Wildcats lost to Georgia 34-17 the week before they faced the Vols. With their SEC East hopes dashed, the Cats were flat against the Vols in a 24-7 loss. However, UT deserves plenty of credit. The Vols were ready to play against a tough, physical Kentucky team and got the win.
3. The 1998 National Championship team celebration
The 1998 National Championship team was honored before the Florida game in a pregame ceremony and during a timeout in the first quarter. It was a stark reminder of what Tennessee football used to be and, perhaps, what it could be again. The evening had to be incredibly special for former Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer, who is now UT’s athletic director after being estranged from the program following his firing in 2008.
4. Randy Sanders’ return
Before returning to Neyland Stadium as a coach for the first time since 2005, ETSU coach Randy Sanders said he wasn’t sure how he would feel when he’d lead his team against the program that he spent over 20 years as a player and coach. The game didn’t go Sanders way as the Vols beat ETSU 59-3. However, that didn’t matter. Sanders received a strong ovation from the crowd after some of his highlights were displayed on the Jumbotron. That was a much different feel compared to when Sanders left the program in 2005 partly due to fan criticism.
5. The end of the Vanderbilt game
There was plenty of hope that the Vols could beat the Commodores and become bowl eligible. It became obvious that the Vols didn’t have enough in the tank as they gave up 21 points in the fourth quarter. The Vols lost 38-13 and the game was mercifully over. However, what makes this a good moment was UT coach Jeremy Pruitt’s strong statements that outlined how determined he was to rebuild Tennessee’s football program through recruiting.
“We’ve got to recruit some depth,” Pruitt said during his post-game press conference. “When we do that, we’ll get better in a hurry. If a young man wants an opportunity to have a chance to play in the SEC really early, this would be a good place to start.”
If prospects were listening, that statement should carry plenty of weight.