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Best Vol Team Quarterfinals: 1967 vs 1997

The '67 National Champions against Peyton Manning's senior season...

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The '67 Vols won a share of the National Championship, easily dispatching 2007 in the first round. Meanwhile the '97 Vols took down 1989 in the first round, led by Peyton Manning in his senior season. Who advances to the final four?

1967: 9-2, SEC Champions, National Champions (Litkenhous), Final AP Rank #2

QB: Dewey Warren

RB: Walter Chadwick

WR: Richmond Flowers, Terry Dalton, Ken DeLong

OL: Elliot Gammage, Joe Graham, Bob Johnson, Charles Rosenfelder, John Boynton

DL: Neal McMeans, Dick Williams, Rick Marino, Derrick Weatherford, Jim McDonald

LB: Steve Kiner, Jack Reynolds

DB: Jim Weatherford, Albert Dorsey, Jimmy Glover, Mike Jones

The '67 Vols under Doug Dickey lost the season opener, with #9 Tennessee falling to #8 UCLA in California 20-16. The Vols would not allow more than 14 points in any game the rest of the regular season, running the table in the SEC. The Vols beat Georgia Tech 24-13 in a nationally televised contest (a huge deal at the time), then beat #6 Alabama in Birmingham 27-13. Those wins helped propel the Vols to #2 in the polls by November, where they stayed throughout the rest of the regular season. Litkenhous declared the Vols National Champions at the end of the regular season. #2 Tennessee faced #3 Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl, and the Sooners stole a 26-24 victory. The Vols missed perfection by six points.

1997: 11-2, SEC Champions, Final AP Rank #7

QB: Peyton Manning

RB: Jamal Lewis, Shawn Bryson

WR: Marcus Nash, Peerless Price, Andy McCullough

OL: Chad Clifton, Spencer Riley, Trey Teague, Mercedes Hamilton, Cosey Coleman

DL: Jonathan Brown, Bill Duff, Ron Green, Corey Terry

LB: Al Wilson, Leonard Little, Raynoch Thompson

DB: Dwayne Goodrich, Terry Fair, Cory Gaines, Tori Noel

Peyton's last hurrah started 2-0 with a blowout over Texas Tech and a 30-24 escape in Pasadena against the Bruins. That set up the old familiar disappointment in Gainesville, as Manning was sacked five times and Florida beat Tennessee again, 33-20. One of the biggest reasons the Vols fell to the Gators: freshman Jamal Lewis was on the bench. But no longer.

It started with 155 yards in a win over Ole Miss. With #13 Georgia in Knoxville, Lewis exploded against his home state for 232 yards on just 22 carries in a 38-13 total beatdown. Throw in Manning's 31 of 40 for 343 and 4 TDs, and I dare you to find a better run/pass day in school history.

The Vols then won their third straight over Alabama, and Manning finished his Heisman campaign with a school record 523 yards against Kentucky in a duel over Tim Couch, a record that stood until Tyler Bray got it against Troy this season. Thanks to two Florida losses, the #3 Vols won the SEC East for the first time, and went to Atlanta to face #11 Auburn still alive in the hunt for the National Championship. In a crazed environment with both teams in Atlanta for the first time, the Vols overcame six turnovers to beat Auburn 30-29 thanks to what I believe to be Manning's best overall performance: 373 yards and four touchdowns to beat the Tigers and get Peyton his ring. Jamal Lewis finished the year averaging 5.8 yards per carry.

The Vols got steamrolled by Nebraska in the Orange Bowl 42-17, but the loss really helped propel this team forward into 1998, knowing what it took to become National Champions...