Vols set quite the fashion tone in Heupel’s second season

Tennessee Athletics photo / Tennessee freshman linebacker Elijah Herring celebrates with fans after the Volunteers in their Smokey Grey uniforms routed LSU 40-13 inside Tiger Stadium.
Tennessee Athletics photo / Tennessee freshman linebacker Elijah Herring celebrates with fans after the Volunteers in their Smokey Grey uniforms routed LSU 40-13 inside Tiger Stadium.

The Tennessee Volunteers lead the nation in total offense and scoring offense after a 10-2 regular season that has yielded a trip to the Orange Bowl.

Oh, and they rank way up there in fashion statements, too.

Tennessee has set a single-season program record by wearing a whopping seven different uniform combinations this season. The Vols wore their traditional orange jerseys with white pants and white helmets on four occasions inside Neyland Stadium and went 4-0 in that look, opening with a blowout of Ball State, closing with a rout of Missouri and collecting memorable wins over Florida and Alabama in between.

There was the orange-on-orange appearance in drubbings of Akron and UT Martin, and the "Stormtrooper" look in all white was undefeated as well with wins at Pittsburgh and Vanderbilt.

Even before his first season with the Vols, coach Josh Heupel hinted that more colors and combinations would be on the way.

"As we move forward, it may be different opportunities as far as what the uniform looks like when you run out on the field -- look good, feel good, play good," Heupel said during the summer of 2021. "We want to create a positive player experience from the moment that they step on campus until they're done but have a long-term relationship with them that lasts forever."

The Vols wore five different uniform combinations last season, adding black jerseys and black pants to altered white helmets in addition to the four primary combinations involving orange and white. Tennessee for decades wore orange and white jerseys and white pants until 1977, when the late Johnny Majors in his first season unveiled orange pants at Alabama and for the home finale against Vandy.

This past summer, Tennessee announced it would be wearing its Nike "Smokey Grey" uniforms at least once a year during the 2022-25 seasons. The Vols had displayed that look in a 2015 victory over Georgia and 2016 wins over Florida and Nebraska in the Music City Bowl, but those uniforms were then shelved after a 41-0 loss to Georgia in 2017, which marked Tennessee's worst loss ever inside Neyland.

Tennessee wore grey from head to toe in a 40-13 dismantling of LSU inside Tiger Stadium on Oct. 8, which resulted in a 5-0 start.

The Vols then wore black helmets, black jerseys and black pants -- referencing the display as "Dark Mode" -- for the first time ever during a 44-6 throttling of visiting Kentucky on Oct. 29. That triumph yielded an 8-0 record and a No. 1 ranking three days later in the season's first installment of the College Football Playoff rankings.

Tennessee wore white jerseys and orange pants for the only time this season on Nov. 5 at reigning national champion Georgia, falling 27-13, and the seventh and final look occurred Nov. 19, when the Vols wore orange helmets with white jerseys and white pants at South Carolina.

"I get excited for the kids when they're excited about it," Heupel said when asked about the orange helmets before the trip to Columbia. "Our classic uniforms are as good as there is, and I love them, but our players love being able to put a twist on things. They also love getting a chance to be a part of picking things out.

"Our leadership council was a part of picking these out this past spring, and there was a lot of excitement."

The Vols fell 63-38 to the Gamecocks, which abruptly eliminated their playoff chances, and it instantly begged the honest question moving forward.

When, if ever, will Tennessee wear the orange helmets again?

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com.

  photo  Tennessee Athletics photo / Freshman edge rusher Joshua Josephs readies for the snap during Tennessee’s 63-38 loss at South Carolina on Nov. 19, when the Vols wore orange helmets.

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