97 vs 98 Vols

#1

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#1
Happy Off-season!

The anniversary of our 98 natty was yesterday (Jan 4th) and it got me to thinking. Why did the 98 team win the title and the 97 team didn't? I was in the opening decade of my life in 98, so I only only vaguely remember what it was like to watch it on TV live. This also means I don't have a strong grasp on the differences in rosters between the two seasons, or the strength of the opponents those years. I know that Florida State played a backup QB, which may have made a difference, especially since Wienke was a great college players and Outzen threw a pick 6, which might have been the difference by the end of the game.

I went to whatifsports.com, which is a simulator, and I simulated the 97 team against the 98 team. I simulated the game five times, and the 97 team won all five games, and honestly it wasn't particularly close (screenshots attached). I know it's just a simulator, but...

So, enlighten me. What were the main differences between 97 and 98, and how was the 98 team able to do what the 97 team couldn't.
 

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#4
#4
The breaks went our way in 1998
1) We played Florida at home
2) A flag at Syracuse
3) a fumble against Arkansas

Meanwhile, the 97 team played basically one bad regular season half on the road at Florida.

97 defense was almost as good as 98. 97 offense was a lot better.
 
#5
#5
Luck of the draw. For elite teams the natty winner generally gets a favorable bounce or two or three or four along the way. We drew the real best team in the country, powerhouse Nebraska, in the bowl game. Michigan got wimpy Washington State. Flip those two opponents and we get the nod in one of the polls.
 
#7
#7
Is it really that simple? Do you think 97 Vols could have won a bowl game at the end of the season against Nebraska or Michigan in a bowl game if the stakes were higher?
There was no way to match up with Michigan. They were locked into the Rose Bowl against the Pac10 champ.
 
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#8
#8
The breaks went our way in 1998
1) We played Florida at home
2) A flag at Syracuse
3) a fumble against Arkansas

The 97 team played a bad half on the road at Florida.

97 defense was almost as good as 98. 97 offense was a lot better.
I think multiple guys who were on both the 97 and 98 teams have said they thought the 97 team was better.
 
#13
#13
We were good in '98--but also lucky: Got some big breaks in the Florida game--as I recall the Gators fumbled five times, and lost one of them at our 1 yard line or thereabouts.

And of course the Arkansas fumble late.

There was also the PI flag at Syracuse--but that was a good call.

The '99 team SHOULD have won it all--maybe the most talent we've ever had in the modern era--and we could have won it in 2001 as well.
 
#15
#15
The 1997 team was better than 1998's. Hell, the 2001 team was probably better than 1998's. 1998's needed an amazing run of luck to win the title -

The flag at Syracuse.
Spurrier playing kicker-go-round.
Ratliff making the play of his life to get to Stoerner.
FSU loses their starting senior QB Weinke and had to play the title game with Outzen. (Frankly, I've always thought that if FSU had Weinke we would have been in trouble in this game, with Weinke throwing to Warrick and all).

When you look at it, the amount of good fortune is somewhat stunning. Tennessee was absolutely drowning in talent between 1996-2001. And yet with all that talent, we never really saw Tennessee be THE dominant team -- and it took a lot of luck for them to get to the Fiesta Bowl. Over time, I think that created a growing perception that Tennessee backed into some of its best moments, as opposed to kicking down the door and taking them. 1998 being the luckiest of them all, obviously.
 
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#16
#16
Good point. I wasn't thinking about conference ties.
I try to block that archaic system out of my memory too lol. It's hard to even explain to people how they went about placing teams in bowls and picking a national champ prior to 1998.
 
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#17
#17
This will be a less than popular take I'm sure, but even with a win over Florida, I wouldn't bet on us winning a national title in 97. Peyton had some issues at times in big games/playoff games/etc throughout his early playing life. It followed him to the NFL too, where he was often putrid in the NFL playoffs, up until the run in 2006 where he helped pull off a come from behind victory vs the Patriots in the AFC title game and helped cruise to a super bowl win over the Bears. After he got that monkey off his back, he became as good of a post season player as the likes of Brady/Rodgers/Brees/etc.

QB rating isn't the end all be all, but it's a decent measure of performance. Here are his QB ratings in the playoffs through his first super bowl victory:

62.3
82.0
31.2
158.3
138.7
35.5
145.7
69.3
90.9
71.9
39.6
79.1
81.8

Certainly not Peyton Manning-caliber performances in the majority of those contests, much like his performance against Nebraska in the orange bowl wasn't. After this, went on a run of 9 straight playoff games where he didn't post a rating below 87.9 and was over 90 in 6/9.

Then ran in to the legion of boom in that Denver/Seattle super bowl which wasn't pretty, and after that his body started failing him. Funnily enough his performances after his body started failing still exceed like 4-5 of his prime performances pre-SB win.
 
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#18
#18
Is it really that simple? Do you think 97 Vols could have won a bowl game at the end of the season against Nebraska or Michigan in a bowl game if the stakes were higher?

Maybe...
Look at UT's record by year since the 98 championship. Which seasons were best and what did they have in common?
1998: UT beats UF wins SECCG & NC
2001: First win in Gainesville since 1971 and we represent SECE in ATL Finished the year with 11 wins. That team was arguably Fulmer's most talented roster btw.
2003: Another win in the swamp and finished with 10 wins.
2004: Beat UF at Neyland. Won SECE and finished season with 10 wins.
2016: Beat UF at Neyland finishing season with 9 wins. This was the best season post Fulmer until we hired Heupel. Really depressing in all honesty.
2022: Beat UF at Neyland finishing with 11 wins along with Orange bowl Victory. On the Cusp of the CFP.

A win over UF propelled us with positive momentum in those years. We probably still get beat soundly by NEB but MICH, you never know. NEB was better than the Wolverines that year imo. Hated those split titles.
 
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#20
#20
95 VOLS should have won the natty. Up big on UF at halftime and had an absolute meltdown in the second half. Went on to beat a loaded Ohio State team in the bowl game that included some guy named Eddie George .
...that, amazingly had scraped by awful UK and Vandy teams the 2 weeks previous.

The problem with that season too was that our best regular season win was against an Alabama team that finished 8-3. Not a "bad" win, and it was huge for the program because we hadn't beaten them in a decade, but we didn't have a regular season win against an elite team that would have put us at the top of the poll with a chance to play for a title.
 
#21
#21
I think the biggest difference was the turnovers we created in 1998, particularly against Florida. Florida out-gained UT by 150 yards in '98, but the UT defense caused 5 turnovers, and only committed 1 turnover.

In '97 against Florida, we threw a pick 6 and could not run against them. That pick 6 was a back breaker. Also in the first quarter of that '97 game, Terry Fair had a bogus PI call on him. Then, a few plays later, Leonard Little dropped an easy pick 6 that was right to his chest, and on the very next play, Raynoch Thompson dropped another easy interception. And Florida scored a TD on the next play. Marcus Nash also dropped a very catchable ball right the play before Peyton's pick 6. Florida then had all the momentum up 14-0, and never looked back. Sometimes just one or two plays here or there can completely flip a game.

Nebraska was clearly the best team in '97. They would've beaten Michigan by a similar score they had against us.

The 1998 team made plays, particularly on defense, when we needed it the most. I believe they were +13 in turnovers the entire season. The '97 team had a turnover problem, particularly lots of fumbles - 11 fumbles in just the first 3 games, and then 6 fumbles in the SEC championship game. The receivers also dropped LOTS of passes that season. I think in '97, Peyton's completion percentage was its lowest in his 4 years at UT, and it wasn't because he suddenly became less accurate. The receivers dropped the ball A LOT.
 
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#22
#22
I think the biggest difference was the turnovers we created in 1998, particularly against Florida. Florida out-gained UT by 150 yards in '98, but the UT defense caused 5 turnovers, and only committed 1 turnover.

In '97 against Florida, we threw a pick 6 and could not run against them. That pick 6 was a back breaker. Also in the first quarter of that '97 game, Terry Fair had a bogus PI call on him. Then, a few plays later, Leonard Little dropped an easy pick 6 that was right to his chest, and on the very next play, Raynoch Thompson dropped another easy interception. And Florida scored a TD on the next play. Marcus Nash also dropped a very catchable ball right the play before Peyton's pick 6. Florida then had all the momentum up 14-0, and never looked back. Sometimes just one or two plays here or there can completely flip a game.

Nebraska was clearly the best team in '97. They would've beaten Michigan by a similar score they had against us.

The 1998 team made plays, particularly on defense, when we needed it the most. I believe they were +13 in turnovers the entire season. The '97 team had a turnover problem, particularly lots of fumbles. The receivers also dropped LOTS of passes that season. I think in '97, Peyton's completion percentage was its lowest in his 4 years at UT, and it wasn't because he suddently became less accurate. The receivers dropped the ball A LOT.
That bolded part shows how snakebit we are against UF, even when we win.

We won the turnover differential 4-1, yet won that game by a missed UF FG in OT. It should have never been that close.
 
#23
#23
That bolded part shows how snakebit we are against UF, even when we win.

We won the turnover differential 4-1, yet won that game by a missed UF FG in OT. It should have never been that close.

Our offense was very bad early in the season in 1998. Tee Martin was not playing well yet. He was awful against Florida and Auburn. He started to improve against Georgia, then got better almost every week.

If Florida didn’t have all those turnovers, UF wins by 10-17 points.
 
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#24
#24
the 98 team played by the maxim's





oh yeah, and they caught every break that the 97 did not.
 
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#25
#25
Happy Off-season!

The anniversary of our 98 natty was yesterday (Jan 4th) and it got me to thinking. Why did the 98 team win the title and the 97 team didn't? I was in the opening decade of my life in 98, so I only only vaguely remember what it was like to watch it on TV live. This also means I don't have a strong grasp on the differences in rosters between the two seasons, or the strength of the opponents those years. I know that Florida State played a backup QB, which may have made a difference, especially since Wienke was a great college players and Outzen threw a pick 6, which might have been the difference by the end of the game.

I went to whatifsports.com, which is a simulator, and I simulated the 97 team against the 98 team. I simulated the game five times, and the 97 team won all five games, and honestly it wasn't particularly close (screenshots attached). I know it's just a simulator, but...

So, enlighten me. What were the main differences between 97 and 98, and how was the 98 team able to do what the 97 team couldn't.
The competition..... football seasons don't happen in a vacuum. The competition changes year to year along with you. Was the 97 Florida team better than the 98 Florida team? What about Bama? Georgia?
 
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