Sep 8, 2012; Knoxville, TN, USA; Tennessee Volunteers cheerleader entertains fans during the first Vol Walk of the season prior to the game against the Georgia State Panthers at Neyland Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

College Football Is Just Better When Tennessee Volunteers, Other Programs Are Winning

Growing up a child of the ’90s, there are certain novelties I look back on with fondness, and others do, too. Scroll through TV channels long enough, and you’re bound to find an episode of Seinfeld airing somewhere. Sega Genesis lacked the sophistication of the Playstation 3, but what video game title today can match the replay value of Mortal Kombat 2 and NHL ’94? I offer quintessential ’90s film Swingers for support (viewer discretion warning):

Likewise, there are certain college football programs I watched in my childhood, whose ’90s excellence contributed to my enjoyment of the sport; not because I was a fan, but because their aura just captured the essence of the game. Their success added an element of excitement difficult to quantify, but a return to glory from each would only bolster the sport’s already growing profile now.

Zach Ragan at All For Tennessee posited an oft-asked question: is SEC domination good for college football? At the heart of this matter is if Alabama dominance is good for college football. Our many Crimson Tide readers might disagree, but the answer is a resounding no.

Now, the matter isn’t if Alabama being great is bad for the game; it’s not. But the Crimson Tide’s recent lack of conference foils is, and the Tennessee Volunteers regaining their past greatness is a remedy.

Tennessee won its last national championship to cap the 1998 season, in the inaugural campaign of the BCS. Volunteers teams since have often underachieved. The Derek Dooley goes down in program history as perhaps the worst period in UT history, producing three straights sub-.500 campaigns.

Butch Jones has a sizable project ahead of him. Should he reestablish Tennessee as a player in the SEC, Alabama instantly regains a natural rival. The Third Saturday in October has lost its luster, but was once a premier rivalry. So was Tennessee’s series with the Georgia Bulldogs.

In the 1990s, Phil Fulmer’s Vols battled Steve Spurrier’s Florida Gators for top billing in the SEC East. With Spurrier now crowing at South Carolina, the conference has yet another potential marquee match-up awaiting upon Tennessee’s re-arrival.

Another program that claimed one of the early BCS crystal balls, Miami, has languished through several underwhelming campaigns since its dominance nearly a decade ago. The Miami Hurricanes were long the most feared program in all of football, giving the nation a bonafide heel against which to root.

Al Golden takes a much different on-field approach from the swagger that defined the Jimmy Johnson and Dennis Erickson eras, but an important quality mirroring those periods of Hurricane greatness is his ability to recruit The U’s surrounding prep talent pool.

Should Miami weather the storm of NCAA investigation, Golden has positioned the Hurricanes for a clash with the Florida State Seminoles to control the ACC.

The ACC desperately needs this rivalry renewed — better if the winner is vying for national superiority. Though the Seminoles and Hurricanes have been near the mountaintop simultaneously, it’s never occurred when sharing a conference.

History proves how intense this rivalry is capable of being, and Golden’s addition of James Coley from FSU this winter adds another dimension.

As does Jimbo Fisher leading FSU to its first BCS bowl win since claiming the 1999 season’s national championship. January’s Orange Bowl was a step in the right direction, but the Seminoles must win the games they are expected to. College football must learn to fear the spear once more.

Among the all-time great games both of the ’90s, and ever in college football pit Miami against the Washington Huskies. The Dawgs marched into the Orange Bowl in 1994 and snapped The U’s 58-game win streak there in The Whammy in Miami.

Nov 10, 2012; Seattle, WA, USA; Washington Huskies head coach Steve Sarkisian greets quarterback Keith Price (17) after the Huskies scored against the Utah Utes during the 2nd half at CenturyLink Field. Washington defeated Utah 34-15. Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

The Whammy was one entry in a spectacular decade for the program, which included a national championship. NCAA sanctions and various other pratfalls relegated UW to the Pac basement in the 2000s.

Steve Sarkisian was hired before the 2009 season to restore Washington to Pac-10 (now 12) prominence. He’s led the Huskies to three straight bowl appearances, but is stuck on seven wins. Two stellar recruiting classes in consecutive years offer promise of getting Washington back ahead of the Pac.

Husky Stadium reopens in 2013. In its heyday, the picturesque venue was a house of horrors for all comers. No stadium on the West Coast rocks quite like Husky when the Dawgs are on top — including Autzen. And with the Oregon Ducks setting the pace in the Pac-12, the ante for Washington’s return is upped even more.

UW-UO is one of the best hidden rivalry gems in the nation. The disdain that exists between both fan bases is palpable, and contention for conference supremacy would only exacerbate it.

Possibly awaiting Ducks vs. Dawgs in future Pac-12 championship games is one program that thrived in the ’90s before hitting hard times in the 2000s, but has made huge strides back. The UCLA Bruins won the Pac-12 South in 2012, and looked primed for more under Jim Mora.

The Bruins were a consistent Pac-10 contender throughout the ’90s. Their success sets a positive tone for the league, as its iconic Rose Bowl home is a more inviting destination when there’s winning football played there.

Tags: Football Miami Hurricanes UCLA Bruins Washington Huskies

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