I love college football. I'm not ashamed to admit it. It's my favorite sport by a wide margin and I spend practically my entire Saturday in the fall watching as many possible games as my simple brain can handle. Obviously, Auburn is my top priority, but I'll gleefully watch any game no matter what conference or affiliation. However, even I was pushed to the limit of ambivalence this past weekend.
COVID hit the SEC especially hard and postponed or canceled 11 other games outside the league. I'm certainly not trying to trivialize the seriousness of the virus by missing out on watching football games, but it's amazing how it is affecting every single aspect of our lives. The Tigers did resume practice Friday and are currently expected to play this weekend which is wonderful news. It does appear they will be missing some contingent of players due to positive tests or contact tracing. Who those players are and the impact of their absence remains to be seen at this time, but just playing the game feels like a win at this point.
Auburn will be visited by an old rival this Saturday in the Tennessee Volunteers. This was once a storied matchup between traditional powers that were usually very evenly matched. The Tigers and the Volunteers played every single year from 1956 to 1991. During those 36 years, Auburn held a 19-14-3 advantage. The Southeastern Conference splitting into two divisions and creating a conference title game in 1992 has been an unprecedented success competitively, financially and culturally. I was all for it then and I'm still glad the decision was made now, but there were some sacrifices that had to be made.
The AU/UT rivalry was one of those sacrifices. It was a game I used to look forward to every year. There were a number of classic confrontations especially in the 1980s. I was at the game in 1990 when No. 5 Tennessee faced No. 3 Auburn at Jordan Hare and the Tigers erased a 26-9 fourth-quarter deficit. The game ended 26-26 after the Volunteers missed a 34-yard field goal with seconds remaining, but it certainly felt like a victory to all of those in blue. Since 1997, Tennessee and Auburn have only met on the gridiron 10 times with two of those being in the SEC championship game. The Vols won the SEC in 97 and Auburn won the SEC in 04.
The Tigers had a six-game winning streak against Big Orange dating back to 2003 until UT upset Auburn 30-24 on the Plains in 2018. This was a game most Auburn fans look back on with equal parts embarrassment, frustration and anger. It was a bad Volunteer team that had no business being within two touchdowns of the Tigers. And yet, they strolled out of the Loveliest Village with a big fat W. QB Jarrett Guarantano, who has averaged 150 yards passing per game in his four-year career, threw for 328 yards and two TDs that day. Wow, I can still feel the conglomeration of nauseous emotions even as I type the words. It's another bad Tennessee team coming in this Saturday that has lost four straight games by an average of 23 points. Diminished roster or not, this is not a game Gus Malzahn can afford to lose.
Andy Graham is a longtime weekly columnist for The Outlook.