Despite the football program's recent struggles, college football Saturdays is the second-most popular religion, with its own gospel hymn. Knoxville, Tennessee, ranks 26th on our Top 100 College Football Towns of America countdown.
To celebrate 100 days until the start of the college football season, HERO Sports is counting down the Top 100 FBS College Football Towns in America. Each day, through Aug. 24, a new city will be revealed. We will analyze the city, the program, the good and bad of the city as well as the bottom line. If you got a problem, @me on Twitter.
26. Knoxville, Tennessee – Tennessee
[credit]Expectations are low this season for Tennessee. Although the hope is they have finally found their coach to right the ship. (Photo: Hayley Pennesi/Tennessee Athletics[/credit]
The football team has been a powerhouse since Robert Neyland took the reigns in 1926. In 21 years, he went 173-31-12, with four national championships. He probably would have won more, but took a hiatus during the '41-'45 seasons to serve our country in World War II. He retired in 1952, and the Vols continued to be a premier program throughout the 20th century.
It's been a rough go since.
Tennessee had just two coaches (Johnny Majors and Phillip Fulmer) from 1977-2008. The Vols have had four coaches since. Their most recent hire, Jeremy Pruitt, was the result of a controversial hiring process that caused a protest march in Knoxville.
This season is being viewed as a rebuilding year in Knoxville. There is only one way to go after hitting rock bottom last season. The Vols went winless in the SEC and lost eight games. Both feats were unprecedented.
Neyland Stadium is the Arc de Triomphe of the South. An incredible monument to college football that packs 102,000-plus every home game. The Tennessee River, which flows as a backdrop to Neyland Stadium serves as a thoroughfare, a recreational hotbed as well as a peaceful setting for any outdoor activity. Take an hour trip to The Great Smoky Mountains, but don't forget to stop at Knoxville's answer to Graceland, Dollywood.
It's still Tennessee, however. The scents and sounds of barbecue and music waft through the air, lifting one's senses to an almost-euphoria.
Some tailgate on malls, others on golf courses, most in parking lots. In Knoxville, the tailgating is done on water. The Vol Navy (enjoy this instructional video) has been around for over 50 years and looks like a Lake Havasu spring break party for college football. Sometimes over 250 boats line up along the Tennessee River to get ready for the game.
ESPN named it the best fight song in the SEC. USA Today ranked it the best, overall. Yet, "Rocky Top" isn't even the official Tennessee fight song. That technicality hasn't stopped the band from playing the tune incessantly. In 2016, Tennessee's Pride of the Southland Band played it 438 times! Tennessee played 13 games, that's 33.6 times per game. I'm surprised the song has not been considered a form of torture at this point.
There is no denying the natural beauty Knoxville can offer. Nor can you challenge the loyalty and support of the Volunteer faithful. If Pruitt can get things turned around, a trip to the home of Mountain Dew might just "tickle your innards."