2007 just might have been the best season ever of college football. I could dedicate this entire post highlighting the weird things that happened around the country during that time. From Appalachian State beating Michigan to the rise of Kansas and Missouri — 2007 was the rollercoaster ride that we all want in a college football season. Frankly, it’s what’s been missing since Nick Saban, Dabo Swinney and Urban Meyer have taken control of the sport.
For Tennessee and Phillip Fulmer, a rollercoaster ride is a great way to describe what that team put us through in that amazing year. It turned out to be an SEC East Championship, but there were several moments throughout that season where you didn’t think Tennessee had a snowball’s chance in hell. They never faltered down the stretch though.
Tennessee started the 2007 season off ranked 15th in the nation, returning plenty of talent. The only problem was that Florida had Urban Meyer and Tim Tebow, while Georgia returned Matthew Stafford and added freshman Knowshon Moreno. That was also the year that the Kentucky Wildcats climbed as high at No. 8 in the national polls. South Carolina also spent a couple of weeks inside the top ten.
In short, Tennessee had their work cut out for them in the SEC East.
The Vols started out with a clunker of a game at Cal, where Tennessee ran into a talented roster ready for revenge from the previous year. Justin Forsett, Jahvid Best, Desean Jackson and Lavelle Hawkins proved to be too much, putting Tennessee behind the eight ball right off the bat, at least in the national rankings.
The much more important game was just a couple of weeks later in the swamp. The Gators were one of the favorites for the national title once again, just coming off a blowout win over Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl the year before.
Predictably, things didn’t go well in the swamp. A 59-20 blowout was the result. It was simple one of those days were Tennessee just didn’t have any answers — Gators were far superior in every aspect. I’m still shocked that they
So here sat Tennessee. 1-2 and unranked. Florida looked ready to run the East once again. People began talking about Phillip Fulmer’s future in Knoxville.
Tennessee regrouped and handled Arkansas State, setting up a must win game for the Vols after the bye week. Fulmer couldn’t afford to start SEC play 0-2 if he wanted any shot of getting to Atlanta. Georgia was rolling into town ranked 12th in the country, but that’s when things got weird for the Vols in 2007.
Out of nowhere, Tennessee jumped out to a 28-0 lead. That game was never close. Arian Foster ran for three touchdowns and put the Bulldogs away late in the third quarter. Things were looking up again.
Tennessee handled Mississippi State on the road the following week, but a trip to Tuscaloosa to visit Nick Saban loomed. It was Saban’s first go-round in the Third Saturday of October matchup, and he didn’t disappoint. Tennessee absolutely fell apart in the second half of that game, losing 41-17. John Parker Wilson and DJ Hall absolutely shredded the Vols, but the Tide went on to lose the next four, which included a loss to Louisiana-Monroe!
That Bama loss was a bummer and all, but shockingly enough Tennessee was still in the thick of things. Believe it or not, the Andre Woodson led Kentucky Wildcats were right in the thick of it too. Florida had just slipped up to Auburn at home and lost to No. 1 LSU the following week. Georgia had already lost to both South Carolina and Tennessee.
Speaking of the Gamecocks, Steve Spurrier had South Carolina ranked 6th in the nation. All they had to do to take control of the East was beat Vanderbilt at home, which of course they couldn’t do. The Commodores knocked off the 6-1 Gamecocks, which started Spurrier’s free fall to 6-6.
But for that week — the week after October 20th — Tennessee, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Kentucky were all tied for the lead in the SEC East.
One of those problems would be solved with an overtime game the following week. After two clutch kicks from Daniel Lincoln, Ryan Succop would go on to miss his attempt in overtime, giving Tennessee a massive lift in the SEC East race.
Tennessee would win their next two over Louisiana-Lafayette and Arkansas convincingly. Georgia held serve and delivered the final blow to the Gators while South Carolina and Kentucky imploded down the stretch.
All Tennessee had to do was get past Vanderbilt and Kentucky and they would be Atlanta bound. That turned out to be quite the task.
Vanderbilt gave Tennessee all they wanted on that day. Nothing went right for the Vols early on. Erik Ainge was just a little off for most of the first half. Tennessee dug themselves into a 24-9 hole. The SEC East crown was dependent on whether or not they could dig themselves out.
The 4th quarter was all Tennessee. Ainge got hot, hitting Josh Briscoe and Austin Rogers for scores. A big Dennis Rogan punt return put the Vols back in business down by two inside Vanderbilt territory. That was a season saving punt return.
Lincoln would go on to nail the go-ahead field goal. Vanderbilt would miss their shot to go back ahead with just a few seconds remaining from 49 yards out. The Volunteers had escaped.
The only roadblock now was a pretty talented Kentucky team, with nothing more to play for than the role of spoiler. Did they ever give it their best shot. We did a separate post for that game alone, which will go down as one of the best of my lifetime.
Tennessee emerged victorious from that one, clinching a birth in the SEC Championship game. They gave LSU all they could handle in Atlanta, but came up just short after Erik Ainge’s 4th quarter meltdown. I won’t make you watch that one again — you remember it.
That one hurts, especially after watching LSU go on to beat Ohio State in the national title. The Volunteers ended up in the Outback Bowl, where they handled Wisconsin 21-17. As it turned out, it was Phillip Fulmer’s final bowl win as the head coach of Tennessee.
Those 2007 Vols certainly weren’t the best team Fulmer had during his time, but they were one of the most resilient. They looked finished against South Carolina, Vanderbilt and Kentucky, but got up off the mat and made something happen. They even came back from an Ainge pick six late in the SEC Championship, driving all the way down to the ten yard line with two minutes remaining. Blowout losses to Florida and Alabama could have ended it all, but they managed to salvage something out of 2007.
That team was the last group to win the SEC East at Tennessee. It’s almost shocking how far the program has fallen since that season. This is a ten year reminder about where the team has gone since then and where they want to get back to one day. Hopefully it won’t be too much longer.