The folks that live across Tennessee's northern border consider the Vols and the Kentucky Wildcats as bitter rivals. The Big Orange crazies in Tennessee, and everywhere else for that matter, consider the game against Kentucky's football team as an automatic win.
It has been that way for an astounding 26 consecutive seasons. There have been a few humdingers and more than a handful of times when it appeared Tennessee's streak over the 'Cats would come to an end.
Somehow, the Vols always figure out a way to defeat Kentucky.
An annual win over Kentucky is as expected as the Pride of the Southland Marching Band playing Rocky Top 25 times before the end of the first half in the Volunteer State.
This weekend's game against the Wildcats will be just the third time in 27 years the Vols have needed a win over Kentucky to keep their bowl hopes alive. It will be the second year in a row that scenario will play out.
In 1986, the Vols were 4-5 with only Kentucky and Vanderbilt remaining on the schedule. Tennessee took care of business in both games and ended up in the Liberty Bowl.
Last season, the Vols were 5-6 heading into a Kentucky game that many figured was the 'Cats best shot at upending the Vols in 25 years. Instead, it was more of the same as the Vols won 24-14 and went on to play in the Music City Bowl.
This game has usually meant more about determining the quality of the bowl for the Vols rather than determining whether they'd be able to participate in a bowl at all.
In 1998, the Vols were 9-0 facing a Tim Couch-led Kentucky squad that had been a part of some epic UT/UK battles with Peyton Manning in '95 and '97.
The result was a 59-21 trouncing of the 'Cats in Neyland Stadium that kept the Vols unbeaten on their way to a national title.
Manning and the Vols beat Kentucky, 34-31, in 1995 in an epic matchup. The Vols' Heisman candidate went head to head with the Wildcats' Heisman hopeful in 1997, when Manning outlasted Couch 59-31.
The Vols came really close to losing in 2001, when Kentucky led 21-0 before Tennessee finally woke up. The Big Orange ended up winning 38-35 to preserve the SEC East title.
Another epic affair between the two teams occurred in Lexington in 2007. Tennessee needed four overtimes, a blocked chip-shot field goal and a baffling final play call for the Vols to defeat Kentucky and go on to the SEC championship game.
Even in the Vols' three bowl-less seasons during the 26-year stretch, Tennessee has defeated Kentucky.
No matter how you slice it, the Vols will be forever thankful for the Big Blue. Anytime they've needed a win for bowl status, an SEC east title or just to become bowl eligible, Tennessee can count on a win against Kentucky to keep their season rolling.
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