For the first time since 2012, the Tennessee Volunteers will be in a match-up of mutually ranked opponents when they take on Oklahoma this Saturday. The most recent AP Poll was released Tuesday, and it has Tennessee ranked No. 23 and the Sooners in at No. 19, marking the first time the Vols have been ranked and faced another ranked opponent since the Vols were ranked No. 23 on September 15, 2012 against then No. 18 Florida.
But, as fans and a handful of players on the current roster know, that game did not go Tennessee's way and was the beginning of the downfall of the 2012 squad. The Vols lost to the Gators 37-20 in a game Tennessee led in the third quarter and looked to have the upper hand multiple times. Then, as they did for most of the rest of the season, Tennessee's defense collapsed and the Gators ripped off several huge gains and put away the game. The Vols haven't been ranked since then until the beginning of this season.
The Florida game of 2012 isn't an anomaly for the Vols when it comes to ranked match-ups. Since the beginning of the 2005 season, the Vols are just 4-10 in games when playing a team that is ranked when they are. The only four games the Vols have won in that time were the 2007 Outback Bowl against Wisconsin, 2006 against Georgia and California, and 2005 against LSU. The Vols have been outscored in those match-ups by an average score of 27.6 to 21.7, including six games in which the Vols lost by two or more scores. For comparison, the Sooners have gone 6-8 in their last 14 games when playing a mutually ranked opponent, including going 0-4 last season.
Tennessee will likely be on the biggest stage the team has seen in several years when they take on Oklahoma on Saturday. And despite what Sooners head coach Bob Stoops may say, it will be the loudest and biggest crowd any Oklahoma team has ever seen.
Rcd to be Broken Saturday. Largest Crowd ever to see the Sooners Play Previous Rcd 96,009 Cotton Bowl vs. Texas pic.twitter.com/gvLJ5yckD1— Mike Brooks (@MBrooks02) September 7, 2015
Both teams need the win on Saturday, and both teams have had their own checkered past with ranked match-ups. But for a program like Oklahoma who has been consistently ranked and finishing in the top 25, a loss on Saturday can be overcome. But for the Vols, a team who has been ranked for two total weeks since the start of the 2008 season before this season began, a loss would only be another gut punch to a program and fan base that has been dealt so many over the last decade.
The Vols haven't beaten a ranked non-conference opponent regardless of if they themselves were ranked or not since the 2007 Outback Bowl when Tennessee won 21-17 over the No. 18 Wisconsin Badgers. And Tennessee's drought is even worse at home, as the Vols haven't beaten a ranked non-conference opponent at Neyland Stadium since the beginning of the 2006 season against California. While a loss to Oklahoma on Saturday won't derail Tennessee's chances of competing for the SEC East or achieving any of their goals for the season, it would still be detrimental to the Vols' national image and keep the narrative going of Tennessee coming up short in big games.
Tennessee hasn't played well in big games over the last decade, which has earned them a reputation for wilting in the spotlight. The Vols can take a step towards altering that perception this Saturday and can start to make Neyland Stadium a place to be feared once again.