Best Vol Team Tournament, First Round: 1990 vs 1999

Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE

One of Johnny Majors' best teams against the year after the National Championship as our first round continues this week...

The first round of our Best Vol Team Tournament continues this week; here's a look at the winners from the other half of the bracket last week:

  • The 1998 National Champions took down the sixteen seed, Casey Clausen's senior season from 2003, with 95% of the vote.
  • Condredge Holloway's 1972 Vols out-dueled Heath Shuler's 1993 Vols in the 8/9 game with 54% of the vote.
  • In a matchup of the two best teams of the new millennium, the 2001 Vols easily dispatched the 2004 Vols with 94% of the vote.
  • The 1969 Vols were well represented in the comments but ultimately fell to Peyton Manning's 1995 Vols, who scored 79% of the vote to set up a showdown with the 2001 Vols in the quarterfinals next week.
Four more first round matchups this week, beginning today with a ridiculous display of talent vs talent: Chuck Webb, Carl Pickens, and Dale Carter vs an arguably more talented but less successful version of the National Championship team. Good luck with this one...

1990: 9-2-2, SEC Champions, Final AP Rank #8

If you're too young to remember this season, you are missing out. The 1990 Vols played what is far and away the most difficult schedule in the history of the program, and that's really saying something considering our history of aggressive non-conference scheduling and the strength of this conference. I would put the narrative of this season with all its roller coaster glory against any season in the history of Tennessee Football.

The 1989 Vols, who you'll see later this week, bounced back from a disastrous 1988 season to go 11-1 and split the SEC Championship. Tennessee was ranked 8th in the preseason and traveled to Anaheim to face #5 Colorado in the old Pigskin Classic. The Vols mounted a furious fourth quarter rally using what is certainly in the conversation for the most talented set of skill players ever at UT: Chuck Webb in the backfield, Carl Pickens and Alvin Harper at wide receiver. With Andy Kelly leading the charge at quarterback, the Vols rallied to tie Colorado 31-31. The Buffaloes would go on to win the National Championship.

The next week, Tennessee hammered Pacific but lost Chuck Webb to a torn ACL...and the sophomore would leave the program. Webb is one of the most talented and most mysterious players to ever wear the orange and white. Without him, serious questions arose about the Vols' ability to run the football. Enter the diminutive Tony Thompson, a senior who had been buried on the depth chart his entire career behind Reggie Cobb and Chuck Webb but was still elected team captain. The little guy immediately made an impact with an incredible should-be-on-youtube run against Mississippi State in a win at Starkville. At 3-0-1 after a win over UTEP, the #5 Vols traveled to Auburn to face the #3 Tigers. This time Tennessee allowed the fourth quarter comeback as Auburn rallied to tie it 26-26. The Vols had played five games and tied twice against two of the nation's best.

Up next were Steve Spurrier's Florida Gators, with The Visor making his first appearance in this rivalry as a head coach. The Gators were ranked #9 and hungry to make their mark in the SEC. Instead, they got the business end of a 45-3 beatdown that many believe is part of the reason Spurrier always ran the score up on the Vols whenever he could. This game was 7-3 at halftime, then Dale Carter ran the second half kickoff back for six and the floodgates engaged. Truly one of the most joyous nights in Neyland Stadium history. It was then followed by what we called the most heartbreaking loss in Neyland Stadium history. Unranked Alabama came in with the #3 Vols looking to end four years of misery against the Tide. Instead Alabama frustrated Tennessee all day, and with the game tied 6-6 and Tennessee finally looking to win on a 50 yard field goal in the final minute. Instead, the kick was blocked, bounced 30 yards downfield, Alabama got the ball there and kicked their own field goal to win 9-6. Only the 2001 loss to LSU was more costly.

Two weeks later the Vols hosted #1 Notre Dame in Knoxville and suffered another heartbreaking loss. The Vols led late in the game but Rocket Ishmail came alive and Notre Dame used big plays to take a two possession lead. But the Vols didn't quit, scoring on a Kelly to Harper TD and then actually recovering the onside kick. Tennessee drove to the red zone but Kelly was intercepted in the end zone, and the Irish escaped.

Tennessee then had to play #15 Ole Miss in Memphis, winner takes the lead in the SEC title race. And the Vols bounced back beautifully in a hard fought 22-13 victory. Taking care of business against Kentucky and Vanderbilt made the Vols your SEC Champion in back-to-back years, and put Tennessee in the Sugar Bowl. The Vols faced Virginia, who was ranked #1 in mid-October before their quarterback went down with an injury. Virginia led 16-0 at halftime, but Andy Kelly turned in one of the greatest fourth quarters in school history, leading three touchdown drives while the defense forced Virginia to kick field goals. Tony Thompson punched it in from the one yard line in the final minute to give the Vols a 23-22 storybook finish. Thompson would lead the SEC in rushing in 1990.

Nine Vols were taken in the 1991 NFL Draft, including the best first round run in school history: offensive tackles Antone Davis and Charles McRae went at 7 and 8, and Alvin Harper was chosen 12th. Every season tells a story, and 1990 remains one of my favorites.

QB: Andy Kelly
RB: Chuck Webb, Tony Thompson, Greg Amsler
WR: Carl Pickens, Alvin Harper, Mark Adams
OL: Charles McRae, Tom Myslinski, Doug Baird, John Fisher, Antone Davis
DL: Chuck Smith, Kacy Rodgers, Vince Moore, Carey Bailey
LB: Darryl Hardy, Earnest Fields, Shon Walker
DB: Floyd Miley, Jeremy Lincoln, Dale Carter, Mark Fletcher

1999: 9-3, BCS at-large, Final AP Rank #9

In the year after The Year, the Vols were preseason #2. The missing pieces were few but legendary, Al Wilson and Peerless Price most notably. Tennessee beat up Wyoming in the opener, then lost to Alex Brown's five sacks in Gainesville in a 23-21 heartbreaker. The song would remain the same from the mid-90s: Florida refused to lose twice in league play, thus the Vols remained outside Atlanta. Still, Tennessee rallied: the Vols shut out Auburn 24-0 thanks to three interceptions from Deon Grant, then put another beatdown on an undefeated Georgia squad, this time 37-20 over the Dawgs in Knoxville.

The marquee win came in Tuscaloosa, with the Third Saturday returning to Alabama's campus. Shaun Alexander was a Heisman contender, but the Vol defense had their way with him in a 21-7 win that gave Tennessee five straight in the series. The Tide would go on to beat Florida and win the SEC Championship. The Vols then dusted #24 Notre Dame 38-14 in Knoxville to move to #3 in the polls, but ahead of undefeated and second ranked Virginia Tech in the BCS. On the second Saturday of November the Vols again controlled their own destiny for the National Championship and eyed rematches against the winner of the looming Florida/Florida State showdown.

But instead, the Vols saw justice show her face as Clint Stoerner and Arkansas got revenge for the 1998 game by an identical score, a 28-24 Razorback win in Fayetteville that ended UT's championship hopes. The Hogs were the first non-Florida SEC team to beat the Vols since Alabama in October 1994.

Tennessee still secured a BCS at-large but got a rematch of a different kind: #3 Nebraska put #6 Tennessee down again, this time 31-21 in the Fiesta Bowl. One of UT's most talented teams could not duplicate the accomplishments of its predecessors.

As you can see though, this team was still quite loaded:

QB: Tee Martin
RB: Jamal Lewis, Travis Henry
WR: Cedrick Wilson, David Martin
TE: John Finlayson
OL: Chad Clifton, Fred Weary, Spencer, Riley, Cosey Coleman, Josh Tucker
DL: Shaun Ellis, John Henderson, Darwin Walker, Will Overstreet
LB: Raynoch Thompson, Dominique Stevenson, Eric Westmoreland
DB: Dwayne Goodrich, Andre Lott, Deon Grant, Fred White
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