Pre-season polls

Preseason polls are like recruiting rankings - you hit some, you miss a lot.

The preseason Associated Press and coaches poll picked Southern Cal and Texas 1-2. Bingo. For the fourth time in eight years, the two best teams are playing in the Bowl Championship Series national title game.

The BCS had the wrong teams four of five years: 2000 (Oklahoma v. Florida State when it should have been Miami), 2001 (Miami v. Nebraska after the Cornhuskers were blown out by Colorado and didn't play in the Big 12 Championship game), 2003 (LSU-Oklahoma when it should have been USC) and 2004 (USC v. Oklahoma when it should have been Auburn).

USC-Texas might be the most hyped matchup in eight years of the BCS.

While the AP hit the top two teams, it didn't fare so well with the rest of the top 25. Nine teams - Tennessee, Oklahoma, Purdue, Texas A&M, Arizona State, Boise State, California, Virginia and Pittsburgh -- in the preseason Top 25 finished unranked. Four had a losing record.

Three others - Michigan, Iowa and Florida State -- weren't within 10 spots of where they were projected.

The biggest failure: Tennessee. The Vols were picked No. 3 and barely won more than three games. UT finished 5-6, its first losing record since 1988.

It was the biggest flop based on expectations in Tennessee football history.

We went back 50 years to find the other biggest flops. It's hard to believe but UT was unranked in the preseason for 10 straight seasons (1976-1985). It's worth noting the AP didn't go to a top 25 until the 1990s.

Here is a list in order of UT's other big flops since 1955:

In 2002, the Vols were picked No. 4. They went 8-5, lost 30-3 to Maryland in the Peach Bowl and weren't ranked. They lost three home games by an average of 20 points.

In 1986, the Vols were a preseason No. 10, coming off a No. 4 ranking and rout of Miami in the Sugar Bowl. UT started 2-5 and finished 7-5 and unranked.

In 1988, the Vols were No. 18 in the preseason, lost the first six and finished unranked at 5-6.

In 2000, the Vols opened No. 13. They went 8-4, lost in the Cotton Bowl and finished unranked.

In 1999, the Vols started No. 2 but lost two SEC games then the Fiesta Bowl to Nebraska to finish No. 9.

In 1974, the Vols were No. 16 before playing a game and went 7-3-2 to finish unranked.

In 1973, the Vols were No. 9 preseason and wound up No. 19 at 8-4.

In 1994, the Vols were No. 13 headed to UCLA. Two injured quarterbacks later, UT finished 8-4 and No. 22.

Here are the top overachieving UT teams in the past 50 years:

In 1985, the Vols started the season unranked. They won the SEC title, won the Sugar Bowl, went 9-1-2 and finished No. 4.

In 1998, the Vols picked No. 10 before the year. They went 13-0 and won the first BCS national championship.

In 1989, coming off a 5-6 season, the unranked Vols won the SEC, went 11-1 and finished No. 5 in the nation after a Cotton Bowl win over Arkansas.

In 1970, UT opened unranked in Bill Battle's first season but went 11-1 to finish No. 4, losing only to Auburn and Pat Sullivan.

In 1965, Doug Dickey's second team started unranked but went 8-1-2, losing only to Ole Miss, and finished No. 7.

In 1995, the Vols opened No. 8 but went 11-1, losing only at Florida, and beat a talented Ohio State team in the Citrus Bowl to finish No. 3 (No. 2 in the coaches' poll).

In 1992, UT began No. 22. With Phillip Fulmer at the controls for the first three games, the Vols started 3-0. After Johnny Majors returned, UT lost three straight and Majors was ousted. UT went 9-3 and finished No. 12. Had Majors not returned, the Vols likely would have lost no more than two games and finished in the top 10.

In 1972, UT was No. 15 before the opener and finished No. 8 at 10-2.

In 2003, the Vols were No. 12. They won the SEC East Division and lost to just one SEC team - unbeaten Auburn.

More Surgery Numbers

As a followup to our column about UT surgeries, we thought these numbers were intriguing.

In the past 5 years, more than 100 Tennessee football players have undergone surgery. Since August of 2004, the number is about 35. Before this past season, 22 Vols had offseason surgery - some significant, some not.

Entering spring drills, the Vols will be without four of their top five running backs because of surgery: Arian Foster, Montario Hardesty, LaMarcus Coker and JaKouri Williams. Walk-on David Yancey will be the only healthy running back.

I don't know what's caused so many injuries. I don't know what's caused so many surgeries.

But I do know this: If the Vols again have 22 offseason operations, Tennessee is headed for another disappointing season.

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