Tennessee’s Rise in College Baseball Polls from Preseason to #1

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Midweek loss aside, Tennessee should have every opportunity to remain at number one for a fourth straight week if they take care of business against Alabama this weekend. The Vols are 31-2, unanimously atop the polls. Depending on who you ask, Miami (26-6) or Oregon State (24-7) is behind them at number two. It’s a scenario we’re not overly accustomed to in college polls: the number one team seems so far ahead of the pack, how many losses would it take to unseat them?

There is much about this baseball run we’re not overly accustomed to, including the stay atop the polls. Three weeks at number one puts the baseball program here in range of men’s basketball, with five total weeks at number one in its history (one from 2008, four from 2019). Shout out to College Poll Archive for the data, which tells us the football team has spent 18 total weeks at number one, most recently in the last six weeks of the 1998 season. Lady Vol softball also spent time at number one in 2007 and 2014.

There’s still, uh, a ways to go to catch Lady Vol basketball, with 112 total weeks at number one.

For baseball, it’s not just the length of stay at number one. It’s the gap this team closed, with the quickness, in arriving there.

In college baseball’s myriad preseason polls, the Vols were ranked anywhere from 16th to 21st. If you start at the bottom, with Perfect Game’s #21 preseason ranking, the Vols have made a jump of +20 in the polls. That’s never been done here in men’s basketball*, and has only happened twice in the Top 25 era in football. Good news on both fronts there: in 1985 and 1989, Tennessee was unranked at the start of the season. Both years ended with an SEC Championship and a Top 5 finish.

*(One update: the 2006 basketball team started the season unranked, then jumped as high as eighth, a theoretical gain of at least +18. I should’ve included them here – Bruce Pearl’s first group is an obvious contender for massively exceeding preseason expectations.)

If you just take the +15 jump from a preseason ranking of 16th in the USA Today and NCBWA polls, we’re still in incredibly rare airspace. In men’s basketball, a +15 jump in the polls has happened only once: 2011, when the Vols opened the year at 23rd before starting 7-0, taking down Villanova to win the preseason NIT and Pittsburgh on the road. The Vols were seventh in the AP poll on December 13, a +16 jump. It went south from there in Bruce Pearl’s final season.

A couple of honorable mentions here:

  • The 2000 Vols started 19th but went as high as 5th, a +14 jump. They finished 11th, with an SEC Championship and the program’s first Sweet 16 in the 64-team format.
  • The team we just said goodbye to started 18th, but was 5th in the final poll headed into the NCAA Tournament, fresh off an SEC Tournament title, for a +13 jump.

In football, the Vols have only made four +15 jumps in the Top 25 era:

  • 1985: Started unranked, finished fourth with an SEC Championship
  • 1989: Started unranked, finished fifth with an SEC Championship
  • 1992: Started 21st, and were ranked 4th on October 6 after a 5-0 start with wins over #14 Georgia and #4 Florida. That +17 jump was followed by three straight losses by a total of nine points, a wild year that led to the transition from Johnny Majors to Phillip Fulmer.
  • 2006: Started 23rd, but jumped to 11th in one week after dismantling #9 Cal in the season opener. The Vols went to 7th on October 15 after beating Georgia 51-33 in Athens for a +16 jump from preseason. Tennessee was still 8th and 7-1 overall facing #13 LSU on the first Saturday in November. Injuries disrupted the finish from there.

So in both weeks at number one and the rise from preseason expectations, this baseball team is working in uncharted territory. And there may be more where that came from this season.

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1 month ago

The program has been on a nice run to start this season. They may experience a little regression to the mean these next few weeks. Fans need to remember, it’s beisbol.