Enjoying the second AP Top 25 win of Tennessee’s season? Well here is another stat to make you feel good.
With a win over No. 12 Kentucky on Saturday afternoon, Jeremy Pruitt has joined Phillip Fulmer and Bill Battle as the only Tennessee coaches to win at least two games against AP Top-25 opponents in their first season as head coach.*
It is a mouthful. But rest assured, that piece of trivia is more meaningful than it first appears.
Tennessee’s football program has been in a mire for the past decade, with occasional respite. The Volunteers have never been truly awful by college football standards—just one season has witnessed them win less than five games—but they rarely put together an objectively great season. To make it worse, they have been able to pull off multiple upsets over the past decade. It just never translates to consistent winning.
How common is it for Tennessee head coaches to give that glimpse of hope? Surprisingly so.
Both Lane Kiffin and Butch Jones pulled off a top-25 upset in their first seasons as head coach. In both 2009 and 2013, it was a ranked South Carolina team that suffered defeat at the hands of the Volunteers.
Yet that distinction between one and two seems to make all the difference. While Kiffin and Jones have those victories to their names, only Fulmer and Battle were able to do it more than once.
Oddly enough the stat does not change for Fulmer if you use 1992 or 1993. As older fans will remember, Fulmer was the head coach for the first three games of the 1992 season while Johnny Majors recovered from surgery. Fulmer managed to defeat two AP Top-25 teams in his first stint (Florida and Alabama).
Battle assumed the head coaching role in 1970 and saw immediate success. He went 11-1 overall and finished No. 4 in the nation after a Sugar Bowl victory. In those 11 wins, he found two wins over AP Top-25 teams: No. 13 Georgia Tech and No. 11 Air Force.
Pruitt is still eyeing a bowl game for the team this year, and it is not guaranteed. Neither is future success. But for now, there are good signs that Pruitt has a lot of potential and is putting his team in a position to win. That is all you can ask for at this point.
*Post World War II Coaches Only