Saturday, November 19, 2022 will go down as the worst day of football in my life.
I normally approach my articles on this site from an unbiased, external viewpoint where I refuse to let my fanatic preferences influence the opinions I give and words I write. But I'm throwing that out the window this week to unleash my pent up anger and frustration from the sequence of events that transpired all day last Saturday.
The 12 o'clock Eastern games featuring top-5 teams were the biggest teases you could have suffered through if you were a fan of any team on the outside looking in to the College Football Playoff. #4 TCU was trailing essentially all game to unranked Baylor, and when they failed a two-point conversion attempt to leave a 28-26 score with just over two minutes left, it left the door primed for Baylor to slam it shut with just one first down on their ensuing drive. However, Dave Aranda was metaphorically neutered after the Bears retained possession on that final drive, forgetting that his team had a chance to secure by far the most significant win of their entire season by knocking off the undefeated Horned Frogs and eliminating them from playoff contention. Instead, he abandoned everything that had worked for them offensively in the second half and ran the ball on first and second down for a net gain of 0 yards before Blake Shapen missed a wide open man on third down and scrambled two yards shy of the first down. Just as everyone at home could foresee, TCU drove into field goal range and managed to hurriedly kick a game winner literally as time expired despite completely mismanaging the final three plays before the kick.
I then turned my attention to ABC where #3 Michigan trailed unranked Illinois 17-10 as the fourth quarter began. After a Michigan field goal, Illinois had a chance to answer with a 50-yard attempt of their own to extend the lead back to seven with eight minutes to play. Instead, the Illini went for it and failed to convert on fourth and 8 on the Michigan 33-yard line. The Wolverines kicked yet another field goal to make it a 17-16 game with 3 minutes to play, and everyone at home, again, knew how the rest of the game was going to unfold. Michigan forced a three and out, drove down into field goal range by benefitting from the most egregious offensive pass interference no-call I've seen since Hunter Renfrow was at Clemson, and kicked a game winner with just a few ticks on the clock.
TCU and Baylor weren't the only top teams to struggle on Saturday. In fact, almost all of them seemingly held on for dear life in games that could have gone either way to survive a chaotic Saturday across the league. #1 Georgia could never pull away from unranked Kentucky, and if Will Levis was a fraction of the player Mel Kiper talks him up to be, the Wildcats would have won without much trouble. #2 Ohio State was behind Maryland at halftime and battled until the bitter end to fend off the Terrapins. #7 USC trailed #16 UCLA 14-0 after one quarter before going back and forth in a shootout to win 48-45 in Pasadena. But there was one, and only one team who could not overcome the barrage of near upsets across college football. And that team did what only that team can do: get absolutely dominated in nearly unprecedented fashion in arguably their biggest game in the last 20 years.
That team is the Tennessee Volunteers. The team I have unfortunately been raised to be a fan of since the day I was born. If a kind and compassionate soothsayer would have been able to foresee the torment that Tennessee's athletics program has put me through in my lifetime, they would have called Child Protective Services on my parents for grooming me to become a fan of them.
I have witnessed Tennessee's football, basketball, and baseball teams lose in the most gut-wrenching ways imaginable. I've seen them lay an egg in the most important games time and time again. There were the double blocked field goals against Alabama in 2009 that prevented the Vols from winning in Tuscaloosa. There was the 13 men on the field penalty against LSU that cost them the win in 2010. The 2010 overtime loss to North Carolina in the Music City Bowl that prompted a need for a rule change in the offseason. The back-to-back games in Gainesville in 2015 and 2017 where Florida won on long pass plays in the closing seconds. The massive letdown against South Carolina (the first time) and Vanderbilt in 2016 that prevented both an SEC Championship appearance or a Sugar Bowl berth.
You can also find tragedy within the basketball program. I've never seen a basketball team in my life who goes colder than Tennessee does in crucial moments. The NCAA tournament woes for my lifetime began when the Vols blew a 17-point halftime lead to top seeded Ohio State in the Sweet 16 in 2007. In 2014, Tennessee was on the wrong end of a controversial charge call that led to a loss against 2-seed Michigan in the Sweet 16. 2018 was the year Sister Jean sold her soul to the devil to allow for Loyola Chicago's incredible Final Four run as an 11-seed, leaving 3-seed Tennessee in their wake. In 2019, the Volunteers faced Carsen Edwards, who had one of the hottest stretches in NCAA Tournament history as he and Ryan Cline, the world's greatest three point shooter for that week, combined for 56 points to eliminate Tennessee's best basketball team ever in... you guessed it. The Sweet 16! And just last season, the Vols met that year's out of nowhere tournament powerhouse, Oregon State, who advanced all the way to the Elite 8 as a 12 seed after beating Tennessee in the opening round.
Amazingly, it doesn't even end at basketball. The BaseVols had one of, if not the greatest regular season in college baseball history in 2022, finishing the regular season 49-7 and winning seven straight postseason games to sweep the SEC Tournament and Knoxville Regional as the top seed overall. They then lost two out of three games to 16-seeded Notre Dame, cutting their historically amazing season short without even making it to the College World Series.
For my entire entire conscious life, I've grown to know only one thing when it comes to Tennessee sports: misery. I am no longer surprised when a basketball opponent ends a weeks-long slump and shoots lights out against the Volunteers. I fully expect it now when an opposing quarterback has the game of his life against Tennessee, because it happens seemingly every game. Down the stretch of games, I wonder what kind of creative way to lose the Vols will come up with. But just when I thought I had seen it all, Tennessee did what only Tennessee could on November 19th.
Prior to that date, this was by far the greatest football team and season Tennessee has had that I can remember. Josh Heupel had designed an offense that was seemingly unstoppable and led to victories over both Florida and Alabama - the latter of which ended a 15 game losing streak to the Tide. After securing the top spot in the CFP rankings for the first time in program history, Vol fans' hopes of a playoff appearance were ever so slightly dimmed by Georgia, who proved themselves as the unquestionable number one team in the country on their home field in Week 10. However, all Tennessee had to do was to keep the rest of their schedule unblemished and defeat the three worst teams in the SEC East - Missouri, South Carolina, and Vanderbilt - to most likely gain access to the exclusive four-team playoff.
Tennessee dominated Missouri in game one of the three game stretch, setting up what would be the more difficult of their two remaining games, but only because the other opponent was Vanderbilt. The Vols took their top-ranked offense to Columbia, South Carolina to take on the Gamecocks as more than three touchdown favorites. South Carolina entered the game with a 6-4 record and the nation's 67th ranked scoring offense, managing only 10 and 6 points in their recent games against Missouri and Florida, respectively. Everyone, including the Tennessee locker room, expected the Volunteers to breeze past USC Jr. and lock in an 11-win regular season in Nashville the following week. But the Gamecocks had other plans.
Naturally, QB Spencer Rattler played the literal game of his life against a secondary that couldn't have performed any worse if they tried. I'm not kidding when I say that Rattler didn't throw a single bad pass all night, and his receivers caught everything thrown their way. He ended the night with 438 passing yards and SIX touchdowns as his offense scored TDs on nine of their ten full possessions en route to a 63-38 beatdown of epic proportions over the Vols. And in a cruel effort by the football gods to make the worst possible outcome even more demoralizing, Heisman trophy frontrunner Hendon Hooker tore his ACL early in the fourth quarter, preventing any hope of an unlikely late game comeback and ending his historic season in the worst way imaginable.
I have gone through the five stages of grief since the South Carolina game concluded. I couldn't believe what I had witnessed and was furious at the fact that Tennessee's players, especially on defense, looked as if they didn't care what the outcome was going to be. I had trouble sleeping that night and was in a terrible mood in the days that followed as I came to realize that Tennessee completely blew their easiest route they would ever have to the pre-expansion playoff to a team that they would have beaten 99 times out of 100. The eternal pain of life as a Tennessee fan was perfectly demonstrated that day as every other top team around the country miraculously escaped unharmed, while the Volunteers were the lone team to suffer defeat.
It was a result that remains nearly unprecedented, entirely unexplainable, yet, somehow, completely expected. Tennessee just can't have nice things, and that notion was perfectly displayed last Saturday when they suffered the third biggest loss by a team favored by more than 21 points in college football history. And when you factor in the stakes riding on this game with a trip to the playoff on the line, I can confidently say it's the worst Tennessee loss of any sport in my lifetime. The kind of loss that completely erases the satisfaction of beating Florida and Alabama this year for me. Which is why I've decided I can no longer be a fan of the Tennessee Volunteers. There is no amount of joy I could receive from that football or basketball program in the future that would negate the two decades-plus of agony I have endured as a conscious human. They will never win a championship in any sport. I know exactly how every season is going to end. I've gotten my hopes up for the final time, and I don't have the energy to lift my hopes from the gutter in which they currently preside.
Now to address what this article should actually be about.
It's been no secret that all five BSSR experts are lifelong Tennessee fans. We took an internal poll and decided that it's best to conclude the 2022 SEC Betting Challenge one week early and retire our picks for the season. We simply don't care about making predictions for the first time ever and cannot, in good faith, give out an uninspired collection of picks as we crawl toward the finish line of the regular season after having our hearts ripped out and eaten by our favorite team.
Our final leaderboard is below, and while I know I'm going to catch heat for this in our group chat, I am unfortunately going to have to claim the crown for this year's challenge. I have led basically the entire year and would have had to suffer a monstrous letdown in Week 13 to blow the seven game lead I possess over Ryne. (Though a monstrous letdown wouldn't be new to the five of us.) Comically, we have a three-way tie for last place this year between Alex, Jacob, and Micah.
We'll hopefully be back next season with rejuvenated minds and bodies to give out our picks for every SEC game of 2023, but until then, we'll all somberly watch as four teams get the chance to win a national championship that our team should have had.
May Tennessee's football hopes and dreams rest in peace.
Stay tuned for the statistical breakdown I'll provide to analyze our collective betting performance in 2022 during the offseason.
Written by Nick Swatson