KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The oddsmakers say Tennessee’s game at South Carolina will be decided by two touchdowns, but recent history — and the Vols’ players — say something else.
“I think it’s a rivalry game,” said Tennessee junior safety Todd Kelly Jr., whose father was originally a Gamecocks commitment before switching to the Vols and playing in Knoxville from 1989-92.
“South Carolina and Tennessee have gone down to the wire almost every year,’’ he said. “With the talent they have, the margin of victory will probably be small, at their stadium, night game, sold out crowd, and they’re trying to get bowl eligible.”
The No. 18-ranked Vols (5-2, 2-2 SEC) kick off against the Gamecocks (3-4, 1-4) at 7:15 p.m. on Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, S.C.
“We look at this as like a rivalry game, so rivalry games are supposed to be close,” said Tennessee defensive tackle Kendal Vickers, who originally committed to South Carolina before changing to the Vols. “Just like Florida and Georgia, these games are close every year and come down to the wire.”
The Vols have won the past three meetings with the Gamecocks, but the last four games have been decided by four points or less.
Since 2000, Tennessee’s series with South Carolina has indeed been more contested than two of the Vols more traditional rivals, Alabama and Florida.
Tennessee is 4-13 against the Gators this millennium and 5-12 against the Crimson Tide.
Georgia owns an 11-6 series advantage over Tennessee since 2000, while the Vols are 11-5 against South Carolina since the turn of the century.
Gamecocks’ first-year head coach Will Muschamp was 4-0 against Tennessee during his tenure as Florida’s head coach, but Vols coach Butch Jones brings a 3-0 mark against South Carolina since taking over in Knoxville.
Jones, like his players, is respectful of what the Gamecocks bring to the table.
“South Carolina continues to gain a lot of momentum,” Jones said. “As a coach, you sit and watch their body of work on video, and I see a football team continuing to improve and get better and better.
“I’m impressed with them defensively. They make you beat them through execution. They are only giving up 21 points per game.”
Here’s a look at Tennessee’s series records against their annual opponents, as well as a list of the Vols’ scores against the Gamecocks since 2000:
Vols vs annual opponents since 2000
Tennessee 15-1 vs. Kentucky
Tennessee 13-3 vs. Vanderbilt
Tennessee 11-5 vs. South Carolina
Tennessee 6-11 vs. Georgia
Tennessee 5-12 vs. Alabama
Tennessee 4-13 vs. Florida
Vols vs. Gamecocks since 2000
(Games in Knoxville in italics)
2015 Tennessee 27, South Carolina 24 – SC coach Shawn Elliott
2014 Tennessee 45, South Carolina 42 (OT) – SC coach Steve Spurrier
2013 Tennessee 23, South Carolina 21 – SC Coach Steve Spurrier
2012 South Carolina 38, Tennessee 35 – SC coach Steve Spurrier
2011 South Carolina 14, Tennessee 3 – SC Coach Steve Spurrier
2010 South Carolina 38, Tennessee 24 – SC coach Steve Spurrier
2009 Tennessee 31, South Carolina 13 – SC Coach Steve Spurrier
2008 South Carolina 27, Tennessee 6 – SC coach Steve Spurrier
2007 Tennessee 27, South Carolina 24 (OT) – SC Coach Steve Spurrier
2006 Tennessee 31, South Carolina 24 – SC coach Steve Spurrier
2005 South Carolina 16, Tennessee 15 – SC Coach Steve Spurrier
2004 Tennessee 43, South Carolina 29 – SC coach Lou Holtz
2003 Tennessee 23, South Carolina 20 (OT) – SC coach Lou Holtz
2002 Tennessee 18, South Carolina 10 – SC coach Lou Holtz
2001 Tennessee 17, South Carolina 10 – SC coach Lou Holtz
2000 Tennessee 17, South Carolina 14 – SC coach Lou Holtz