KNOXVILLE - Four times in the University of Tennessee's storied football history, teams have been backed into the corner where the Volunteers find themselves again today.
Since it began playing football in 1891, Tennessee has never lost eight games in a single season, though three teams in the past decade have reached the brink of that threshold. The Vols beat Kentucky in 2012 and 2013 to avoid an eighth loss and had to beat both Kentucky and Vanderbilt to close the 2008 season without an eighth loss.
Vanderbilt gets another chance today to sink the Vols (4-7, 0-7) to an all-time low and remove the program from an elite group where history is concerned. The Commodores (4-7, 0-7 Southeastern Conference) will be at Neyland Stadium for a 4 p.m. kickoff in the season finale for both teams.
Ohio State and Tennessee are the only Power Five conference programs in the nation that have never lost eight games in a single season.
"It is very significant that this game should not be lost," senior tight end Ethan Wolf said Monday. "Whether that's evident to a lot of people on the team, I don't know. We're going into the week, so obviously we don't want to talk about losing or say 'Don't lose this game because ' We want to talk about 'Let's win the game.'"
The Vols started playing 12 games per regular season in 2002, which has added to the probability of a bad year resulting in eight losses. But Vanderbilt made a habit of it even during the era of 11-game regular seasons.
Since 1961, the Commodores have lost eight or more games in a season 28 times. Prior to 2008, Tennessee lost seven only once - in 1977, Johnny Majors' first year as coach. The Vols beat Vanderbilt in the finale to avoid an eighth loss.
Rather than dwell on the melancholy history at stake, Tennessee's seniors talked this week about their final chance to don the orange and an opportunity to play the program that beat them 45-34 in Nashville last season.
"It's a tough situation, because obviously you don't want to lose and put that eight losses on there," Wolf said. "But you don't want to feed any negativity into our mind of even talking about losing."
A win for Tennessee's senior class would be its 30th in its four-season span and would give the outgoing Vols a 3-1 record against the Commodores.
"Vanderbilt, they're a good team," redshirt senior defensive tackle Kendal Vickers said. "They've had some bad breaks this year as well. They're coming in to win this game, and we're definitely coming in to win this game as well. It'll be a good one."
Senior linebacker Colton Jumper said "there is a lot of motivation" in playing Vanderbilt.
"It's a big rivalry, big game for us," Jumper said. "It's our last game, and it is a rivalry game. That's always in the back of our minds that they had our number last year."
Contact David Cobb at email@example.com.