Inside the streak: Tennessee prepares for annual mental crisis vs. Florida

For the second straight year during Tennessee-Florida week, the Knoxville Quarterback Club began a meeting by praying for the Vols to get help to beat the Gators, according to the Knoxville News-Sentinel.

They take football a little seriously in Knoxville. Tennessee's 11 straight losses to Florida is beyond a little serious -- and now it has a shot to be historic.

Florida's 11-year winning streak is tied for the longest annual success by one SEC traditional power over another in league history.

(By traditional power, I mean Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Auburn and LSU. They're the only schools to win SEC championships since 1977, and they got split equally when the SEC went to divisions in 1992. When these schools play each other, you don't expect 11-year winning streaks.)

Alabama won for 11 straight years over both Tennessee and LSU from 1971-81 in the Bear Bryant era. The Crimson Tide currently have an active nine-year winning streak over the Vols under Nick Saban. Florida's dominance vs. Tennessee is different since it has spanned three Gators coaches -- Urban Meyer, Will Muschamp, Jim McElwain -- who have won 11 straight over four Vols coaches (Phillip Fulmer, Lane Kiffin, Derek Dooley, Butch Jones).

Longest win streaks among SEC Powers* Streak (Years) Avg. Margin
Florida over Tennessee 11 (2005-present) 12.7 points
Alabama over Tennessee 11 (1971-81) 16.4 points
Alabama over LSU 11 (1971-81) 15.6 points
Alabama over Tennessee 9 (2007-present) 21.4 points
Florida over LSU 9 (1988-96) 22.8 points
Georgia over Auburn 9 (1923-31) 18.7 points
Tennessee over Georgia 8 (1992-99) 16.1 points
Tennessee over Alabama 7 (1995-2001) 14.7 points
Alabama over Tennessee 7 (1986-92) 12.4 points
Florida over Auburn 7 (1995-2000)^ 22.6 points
Florida over Georgia 7 (1990-96) 26.4 points
Florida over Georgia 6 (1998-2003) 13.7 points
Auburn over Alabama 6 (2002-07) 7.8 points
Auburn over Georgia 6 (1953-58) 16.7 points
Georgia over Florida 6 (1931-36) 16.8 points
* In an annual series | ^ Florida beat Auburn twice in 2000 (SEC title game)

So Florida-Tennessee on Saturday could produce a new high/low (depending on your allegiance) as the most dominating/embarrassing stretch ever within a high-profile SEC series. Or the Vols could finally snap the streak and signal they're legitimate SEC East contenders again.

"It's been the same thing happening for 11 years," Florida cornerback Jalen Tabor said in August on "The Paul Finebaum Show." "The greatest indication of the future is the past. It's really all you [media] picking Tennessee to win the East. I know I'm just a player, but I really don't see it. Tennessee has come close [to beating Florida] two years in a row, but close only works in horseshoes."

Tennessee is a touchdown favorite Saturday in a game it hasn't won since 2004. The last time the Vols beat the Gators:

  • Ron Zook was the losing coach
  • Current Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs was 9 years old
  • Jones was the wide receivers coach at West Virginia
  • McElwain was the wide receivers/special teams coach at Michigan State
  • Donald Trump was saying he identified more as a Democrat while George W. Bush ran for reelection
  • Facebook was in its first year, Twitter was two years away, and the iPhone was three years away

The streak might be longer if not for a controversial penalty on Florida's Dallas Baker in 2004. The Gators had the ball up 28-27 with less than one minute left when, on third down, Tennessee's Jonathan Wade slapped Baker, who retaliated with a slap of his own. Only Baker got flagged. The penalty stopped the clock before a Florida punt and gave the Vols better field position, leading to the winning 50-yard field goal with six seconds left.

When the streak started, Tennessee led the all-time series 19-15. Florida now leads 26-19. The Vols have run for a miserable 2.4 yards per carry in the 11 straight losses. Yet even when Tennessee gained 254 yards on the ground in 2015, it still managed to lose.


A streak of dominance

StatFloridaTennessee
Avg. Points/Game2916.3
Second Half Points/Game178.4
Total Yards/Play5.44.4
Passing Yards/Game186.2204.5
Rushing Yards/Game179.568
Turnovers/Game1.32.5
Sacks/Game2.31.8
Field goals20 of 2314 of 17
Kick Return Yards/Attempt22.920.7
Punt Return Yards/Attempt13.36.5
3rd Down Conversions43%34%
4th Down Conversions12 of 18 (67%)5 of 16 (31%)


Streak breakdown

Misery looks like this: The Vols have led the Gators three times in the fourth quarter since 2005, and Tennessee lost all three games by one point. Welcome back to Tennessee's annual mental crisis. With both teams suffering from major injuries, is this finally the year for Tennessee?

2005: Florida 16, Tennessee 7

How Tennessee lost: Special teams blunders. Tennessee fumbled away a punt and failed on a fourth-and-9 fake punt. From the Tennessee 32-yard line, Vols punter Britton Colquitt threw a pass that was nearly intercepted by Tony Joiner and fell incomplete for great Florida field position.

They said it: "We are a team, and we are all on the same ship. If special teams breaks down, it hurts me, too. I appreciate their effort, but it wasn't good enough tonight." -- Tennessee linebacker Kevin Simon.

2006: Florida 21, Tennessee 20

How Tennessee lost: Fourth-quarter toughness. Florida's Dallas Baker caught a 21-yard touchdown from Chris Leak in the fourth quarter, and Reggie Nelson preserved the lead with his second interception. This was the final game for Tennessee defensive tackle Justin Harrell, who elected to play once more despite knowing he had a ruptured tendon in his left biceps.

They said it: "Obviously a very disappointing loss for our football team, but I told our team afterward I'm proud of the effort they gave and the way they came out and fought. A lot of plays in the ballgame that should have and could have been made offensively." -- Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer

2007: Tennessee 59, Florida 20

How Tennessee lost: Overwhelmed. Tim Tebow threw for 299 yards, ran for 61 yards and totaled four touchdowns. He even completed two passes underhanded -- one while falling down.

They said it: "Certainly, this wasn't the representation that we intended it to be down here today. Our players did work hard in preparing for this. Their attitudes have been outstanding." -- Fulmer

2008: Florida 30, Tennessee 6

How Tennessee lost: Countless mistakes. Florida's Brandon James opened the game with a 52-yard kickoff return and finished the first quarter by scoring on a 78-yard punt return as five Vols missed him in the open field. At one point, Tennessee quarterback Jonathan Crompton dropped the ball on a simple drop-back pass attempt. Tennessee fans booed heavily and exited en masse in the third quarter.

They said it: "There's probably not anybody happy with me right now. There's probably not anybody happy with the quarterback right now. ... A couple things I'd probably boo too." -- Fulmer

2009: Florida 23, Tennessee 13

How Tennessee lost: Kiffin "won" a moral victory. The Vols avoided the beatdown everybody expected in Kiffin's first game against Meyer. In the offseason, Kiffin vowed to sing "Rocky Top" all night long after beating the Gators and stoked the rivalry by making false allegations that Meyer committed NCAA violations.

They said it: "It worked perfectly. It took all the pressure off the players. ... It was all on me. We were 30-point underdogs in this place and it really helped them go out and play ball." -- Kiffin

2010: Florida 31, Tennessee 17

How Tennessee lost: Third-down defense. Florida was a disjointed team in 2010 during Meyer's final season. This was a one-score game in the fourth quarter waiting to be won by the Vols. But the Gators converted 8-of-14 third-down tries, including 6 of 9 by quarterback John Brantley.

They said it: "Are we good enough to win at Neyland Stadium? That's all I'm worried about." -- Meyer

2011: Florida 33, Tennessee 23

How Tennessee lost: Chris Rainey. Florida's running back had 108 yards rushing, 104 yards receiving and blocked a punt. On its opening drive, Tennessee lost standout wide receiver Justin Hunter to a knee injury.

They said it: "We lost. There is always what-ifs. What if I don't throw two picks? What if I throw five touchdowns?" -- Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray

2012: Florida 37, Tennessee 20

How Tennessee lost: Second-half collapse. The Vols led 20-13 before the Gators scored the final 24 points. Florida outgained Tennessee 152-5 in the fourth quarter. Prior to this game, the Vols were 13-0 when leading at halftime under Dooley.

They said it: "We had a great game going and we just let it slip away. You know, the sky's not going to fall tomorrow. We're going to have to learn from it." -- Dooley

2013: Florida 31, Tennessee 17

How Tennessee lost: Quarterback play. Tennessee couldn't take advantage of a season-ending injury to Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel in the first quarter. Seldom-used backup Tyler Murphy played better than expected. The Vols' decision to give redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman his first career start on the road backfired. Peterman had three turnovers in the first 17 minutes was benched for Justin Worley, who wasn't much better.

They said it: "Losing is never accepted or tolerated at Tennessee. ... We have to keep getting better. We have to keep things in perspective as we continue to build this football program. We took some small steps, but we have a long way to go." -- Jones

2014: Florida 10, Tennessee 9

How Tennessee lost: Blown fourth-quarter lead. Freshman quarterback Treon Harris replaced an ineffective Driskel (11 of 23, 59 yards, three interceptions) and Florida erased a nine-point deficit in the fourth quarter. The comeback stunned the Vols, which were favored over the Gators for only the second time since the streak began. Not even a pre-game pep talk from rapper Lil' Jon could end the Vols' drought.

They said it: "I'm not going to make any excuses. We didn't get it done. Case closed." -- Jones

2015: Florida 28, Tennessee 27

How Tennessee lost: Blown second-half lead plus improbable finish. Tennessee led 20-7 with five minutes left in the third when Jones oddly called timeout on defense before fourth-and-6. Instead of settling for a field goal as planned, Florida converted on fourth down and later scored a touchdown. Jones kicked an extra point early in the fourth quarter to go up 13 instead of going for two and a 14-point lead. The Gators went 5-for-5 on fourth downs, capped by Antonio Callaway's 63-yard touchdown catch with 1:26 left on fourth-and-14 that Tennessee failed to defend.

They said it: "I don't know if we deserved it or not. But I prefer it this way. It was pretty cool, wasn't it?" -- McElwain

Not in Knoxville. They're praying again to end the streak.

"You know there's no pressure when they're praying for a win," then-Tennessee tight ends coach Mark Elder quipped while speaking in 2015 at the Knoxville Quarterback Club during Florida week.

Nope, no pressure. It's only Tennessee's annual mental checkup.

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Jon Solomon is CBS Sports's national college football writer. A former Alabama resident, he now lives in Maryland and also writes extensively on NCAA topics. Jon previously worked at The Birmingham News,... Full Bio

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