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Why does Tennessee only have one player in the top 100 of the College Football 25?
Why does Tennessee only have one player in the top 100 of the College Football 25?

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With media days and the start of fall training camp just weeks away, Tennessee has every reason to be hopeful as the start of the 2024 college football season approaches.

Under coach Josh Heupel, the Vols have achieved the consistency, competence and sheer normality that they have sorely lacked for so long.

Over the past two seasons, Tennessee has a 20-6 record, the team’s most wins in a two-year stretch in two decades. An up-and-down 2023 season ended on an encouraging note with a 35-point win in the Citrus Bowl behind a five-star first-year quarterback making his first career start, lifting the team to 9-4. With a number of key players returning, the Vols were a fixture in the preseason top-25 rankings, often appearing in the top 15.

REQUIRED READING: College Football Top 100 Player Ratings: Where Tennessee Players Rank in “College Football 25”

There is one area, however, where Tennessee isn’t getting as much love, respect or praise. And it’s not from the media that cobbles together those preseason top-25 rankings. And it’s not from the coaches, either, because the US LBM Coaches Poll won’t be released until early next month.

Rather, it comes from a video game.

The upcoming EA Sports “College Football 25” has been breathlessly discussed and endlessly dissected by fans of the sport and gamers who have endured the agonizing 11-year wait for the series’ return.

A ranking of the game’s 100 greatest players was released on Wednesday. The list caused quite a stir in Tennessee, as only one Vols player – defensive lineman James Pearce Jr. at No. 4 – made the list.

It’s a relatively meaningless distinction — it’s just a video game and has no bearing on what happens on the field this fall — but it raises an interesting question. How can a team projected to be a top-15 team next season have only one of the top 100 teams in the country?

The Vols have as many players in the top 100 as:

  • Arkansas, which is coming off a 4-8 season and whose head coach Sam Pittman is at the top of every hot seat list ahead of the 2024 season
  • Virginia, which finished 3-9 last season and 3-7 the season before
  • Purdue, fresh off a 4-8 finish in 2023
  • Colorado State, a 5-7 team in 2023 whose most notable contribution to the sport last season was asking its coach Deion Sanders to take off his hat and sunglasses

Other teams where Tennessee has as many top-100 players as Jacksonville State, Old Dominion, Syracuse, Minnesota, Cal and Rutgers also have one. Cincinnati has one less than Cincinnati, which went 3-9 in 2023, the program’s lowest single-season win total in 24 years.

Iowa, the team that pulverized Tennessee in the aforementioned Citrus Bowl, has four players – and that’s after the Hawkeyes lost four stars to the NFL.

REQUIRED READING: Todd Helton almost didn’t become a Tennessee Vol on his way to the Baseball Hall of Fame. This is how it happened

But that is not the end of it.

Two weeks before releasing its player rankings, EA released its top 25 teams for College Football 25, a list that surprisingly and perhaps inexplicably did not include the Vols.

This omission is all the more puzzling when you consider who actually made it there.

Miami, which has consistently underperformed and has a 12-13 record over the past two seasons, is No. 13. Texas A&M, which paid its coach more than $75 million less than a year ago to do nothing, is No. 14. At No. 16 is Colorado, a team that recently had a 4-8 record, with a head coach who often looked underdog due to his time management and questionable roster construction, without the overwhelming talent advantage he had at his previous stop.

Those slights, such as they are, could be long forgotten in two months, when the college football desert of July is over, the 2024 season has begun, and Tennessee is playing games of real significance. Then, and only then, can Heupel and his team put to rest any doubts that surround them.

It’s also possible that a game praised for its authenticity and meticulous detail knew something about the Vols that much of the sports punditry didn’t.

There’s only one way to find out how good Tennessee could be in 2024. And it won’t be when College Football 25 comes out on July 19.

By Liam