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NEUTRALIZED: A look at how the Vols have fared in neutral-site games over the years

By: Dallas Bowlin

Senior Staff Writer, Junior Editor, Content Manager, Co-Host

The All Vol Call in Show

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The Battle of Bristol | Photo | Wiki

Neutral-site games have been a huge part of college athletics, including college football, for almost as long as sports have existed. They go back to 1876 when Princeton and Yale faced off fifty miles from the Tigers campus. The allure of a neutral-site game is to get as close to a split crowd as possible, which brings in revenue for each school instead of just the home team. Outside of financial purposes, the divided fans create a much more lively atmosphere for fan banter. It also allows schools to recruit in areas they most likely would not have had the opportunity to do otherwise.


The University of Tennessee football program is no stranger to neutral-site games; in fact, Tennessee will travel a short distance to Nashville to face off with the Virginia Cavaliers to kick off the 2023 season. If you enjoy reading history as I do and are curious about Tennessee's record in these games and how they have fared, you've come to the right place.


Tennessee’s first neutral-site game took place on November 10th, 1890. The Vols took on the Auburn Tigers in Birmingham, Alabama. Tennessee would lose this battle 23-0. A newspaper article subheading from the next day states “Auburn Men Stood Like a Stone Wall” Yarborough scored three touchdown for the Tigers en route to Auburn’s victory.


The Volunteers would win their first neutral-site game in 1902 when they defeated the University of Mississippi in Memphis at Red Elm Park by a score of 11-10. The Park's total attendance was announced at 1,600, a far cry from your typical crowds today. I struggled to find actual statistics from that game.


In 1942 the Tulsa Golden Hurricanes were a force. They led the nation in scoring at 39.5 points per game and passing offense at 233.9 yards per game. Tulsa's quarterback Glenn Dobbs was fourth national in total offense with 1,427 yards and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame following his career. The Golden Hurricanes were 10-0 until they faced off with the Big Orange in the Sugar Bowl. Tennessee would win by a score of 14-7, and as Bob Wilson of the News-Sentinel in New Orleans stated in his headline, "Tennessee Ought to Have Won by a Much Larger Score." Tulsa had no answer for the Tennessee defense, losing 39 yards on the ground.


You have to talk about the 1998 National Championship game if you're talking about some of Tennessee's biggest neutral-site games; the Vols wrapped up their 13-0 undefeated season by defeating the Florida State Seminoles by a score of 23-16. Tennessee limited Florida State's star receiver Peter Warrick to only one reception for seven yards. Peerless Price had 199 receiving yards on four catches and caught the game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter. This season came after a year where it looked like Tennessee was poised to break out and win big time with a potential Heisman quarterback. However, they fell short. The backup from that season (Tee Martin) would win the starting job in 1998 and achieve the prior season's goals. Sound familiar? Just saying.


The 2016 Battle at Bristol is the record holder for the largest single-game attendance ever at 156,990. The 2016 season may not have ended as most Volunteer fans had hoped it would, but the atmosphere for that game was so electric that you could feel it through television sets. Tennessee would defeat Virginia Tech 45-24 in part thanks to 106 yards on the ground from quarterback Josh Dobbs.


Most recently, Tennessee defeated Clemson 31 -14 in the Orange Bowl, which was Josh Heupel and the Volunteers announcing to the college football world: The Vols are back. Quarterback Joe Milton threw for 251 yards and three touchdowns while running back Jaylen Wright carried the ball 11 times for 91 yards.


All-time Tennessee has 147 wins- 88 losses, and eight ties in neutral-site games—the Vol faithful hopes to be 148-88-8 after its season opener in 2023.


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