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Tennessee Football Never Quit To Be Historically Great

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Tennessee’s football program has now won 11 games or more in a season nine times. I’d stack this group’s mental makeup against any of the other teams that managed that many wins.

Most of those other 11-win teams were more talented compared to their counterparts. That wasn’t the case this season. No matter. This team just refused to quit when it would have been understandable. That was on display against Clemson in a 31-14 win in the Orange Bowl on Friday.

The Vols had no championship to play for and could have treated a trip to Miami like a vacation. They could have mailed it in before ever leaving Knoxville when the weather made one yearn for grunge rock. They didn’t. The Vols just kept pounding away and it showed against the No. 7 Tigers. Sure, there were some opt-outs that were unfortunate, but Tennessee’s spirit was ever-present.

I’m aware that college football teams play more games nowadays, which means they have more opportunities to win 11 games, as the Vols first did in 1938 and last did in 2001. I’m also aware that most everyone thought an eight-win season would be a success in 2022. I was one of those people.

Tennessee HAMMERS Clemson 31-14 in the Orange Bowl. How good were the Vols against the Tigers? Great

I was also one that had trouble determining how motivated this Tennessee team was to play in the Orange Bowl after they had lost a shot at any championship. I shouldn’t have doubted them.

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Tennessee had every reason to quit on multiple occasions, but never did. The Vols watched Alabama march down the field to attempt a game-winning in field goal attempt. Yet somehow, the Vols arose victorious.

The Vols had every reason to quit when they were put in their place by a better Georgia team. Tennessee bounced back to set records against Missouri.

Tennessee had every reason to quit when they lost their leader, quarterback Hendon Hooker, a navigable path to the College Football Playoff and a good amount of national respect when they lost to South Carolina. They came back and set records in a lopsided win against Vanderbilt in a miserable, driving rain the following week.

There was another microcosm of Tennessee’s mental toughness in the fourth quarter of the Clemson game. The Vols had led and – somewhat – dominated Clemson throughout the game, but allowed the Tigers to climb within a score. The Vols led 21-14. Had Tennessee called off the dogs too soon? Nope.

Tennessee not only responded with a long, touchdown drive; they did it their way. The Vols threw deep when all common sense would say to run the ball. No quitting on their approach. Just more determination.

If you want to compare rosters, Tennessee might actually be more talented in 2023 than they were in 2022. However, that doesn’t mean they’ll win more games. Don’t underestimate a team’s mentality. The Vols had a historically great psyche. Those don’t come along often – like 11 wins.

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