With SEC shakeup, Vanderbilt unlikely to drop off Tennessee football’s November menu | Strange

Southeastern Conference football is growing, evolving. And with the changes come questions about future schedules.

As Oklahoma and Texas arrive in 2024, divisional play is going away, bringing an end to current annual East rivalries.

Tennessee’s ’24 schedule does not include either of those teams from a town named Columbia that have opened up a can of you-know-what on the Vols in the past season and the current one.

A format for 2025 and beyond has not been set. But I can’t imagine an arrangement that does not include Tennessee playing Vanderbilt every November.

That’s a break.

For 32 years in the SEC divisional era, Tennessee has been saddled with what I call the Alabama penalty. The Vols have been the only SEC East team that plays the Tide every season.

And while UT fans love the tradition of the “Third Saturday in October,” it generally comes with an “L” attached. The Vols are 1-16 against Nick Saban. Coincidence or not, Tennessee hasn’t played in the SEC championship game since 2007, Saban’s first year at Alabama.

If the SEC adopts a nine-game future SEC format, ‘Bama probably remains an annual fixture for UT, along with Vandy and a third school. The other six foes will rotate.

In an eight-game format, though, each school is projected to retain only one annual rival and seven rotating opponents. Alabama’s annual rival will be Auburn.

Vandy is the natural in-state fit for Tennessee. The Vols have played Vanderbilt 116 times, more than the 106 against Alabama. And a lot more than the 53 against both Georgia and Florida.

And while there’s no such thing as a guaranteed win in SEC football, you’d take your chances with the Commodores.

UT holds a 79-32-5 command in the rivalry against the only SEC charter member that has never won a conference title.

In the past 50 years, the Commodores have been more likely to go winless in the SEC – 16 times – than get bowl eligible – eight times. Note: the 2023 squad is 0-7 in league play.

Oh, there was once a time when Vandy had its way with Tennessee. That time, however, was 100 years ago. Robert Neyland’s arrival in 1926 changed the trend.

In the eight decades or so from 1928 to 2011, the ‘Dores won just nine games against the Vols. More relevant, in the 28-year span from 1976 to 2004, Tennessee won 27 times.

The three games from 2001-03, Vandy didn’t even score, a prolonged 110-0 Tennessee rout. Ouch.

A glance at the UT record book finds the ‘Dores here and there.

The Vols’ largest comeback. In 1987, UT trailed 28-3 but won 38-36. The largest fourth-quarter rally, in 2007, from down 24-9 to win 25-24.

The 1952 Vandy team gained only 13 yards, least ever by an opponent.

Peyton Manning earned three of his wins the hard way: 12-7, 14-7, 17-10.

Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning scores the winning touchdown in a 17-10 victory over Vanderbilt during his final game at Neyland Stadium, Nov. 29, 1997.
Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning scores the winning touchdown in a 17-10 victory over Vanderbilt during his final game at Neyland Stadium, Nov. 29, 1997.

The Vols rushed for 415 yards in ’91 and 406 in ’94.

More recent history, to Tennessee’s chagrin, has been more competitive. (Of course, there’s been a lot of chagrin to go around in the Vols’ recent history.)

James Franklin beat UT in 2012 and ’13 before leaving for Penn State. His successor, Derek Mason, knocked off Tennessee three straight years, 2016-18.

A current four-game win streak by the Vols puts them up 6-5 over the past 11 games.

That streak should hit five on Saturday.

As for the future, Tennessee will have annual chances to extend it. The Commodores will have annual chances to break it. Because I don’t think Vandy’s going anywhere.

Mike Strange is a former writer for the News Sentinel. He currently writes a weekly sports column for Shopper News.

This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: Tennessee football vs Vanderbilt likely to survive SEC reorganization