OMAHA, Neb. – A lonely tumbleweed blows across the landscape. Wind howls in the distance. Spores clink in the dust.
We knew it could happen sometime in this year’s College World Series, also known as The Greatest Show on Dirt.
And now the showdown is here: Tennessee vs. Texas.
Hand to hand. One UT vs. the other UT. Winner continues, loser goes home.
By then, you’ve heard all the fuss (and probably some more) about today’s matchup.
But the point cannot be overstated: No. 3 Tennessee vs. No. 2 Texas is going to be a grudge match. A life and death struggle. A horny afternoon (pun intended) between two of the best teams and most electric fan bases in college baseball.
So before we dive into the analysis, here are a few interesting off-field comparisons and edges that will get you into today’s first pitch (1 p.m. CT, ESPN).
PMS 151 vs. Texas Burnt Orange
Let’s start with the obvious: the orange comparison.
Now let’s get that out of the way: I’ll admit my nursery was burned orange for a while. And i liked it.
Tennessee Orange doesn’t work on four walls. It’s too “out there”, at least for my 8 year old taste.
But in uniforms? This orange pops like nothing else in the country.
That makes Tennessee unique when compared to the longhorns’ interesting mix of red, yellow, and mud brown.
This is what makes the “Vols” script so cute, regardless of whether the script is set in white on a bright orange jersey or emblazoned in orange on what is perhaps the best cream-colored uniform in baseball (sorry, braves).
Overall, Tennessee’s PMS 151 is one of the greatest colors in any sport, and I think Nike’s designers would agree with that.
So it’s this bright orange – at least when combined with the stadium-moving, well-traveled, SEC-tested fans of the Vols – that gave Tony Vitellos Club our first off-field advantage.
Second, we come to the alumni chapter.
No, not that group of people you meet up with every week to cheer your team on from a random bar in a town you moved to for work.
I’m talking about the part of this column where we look at another notable comparison between these schools: the famous graduates.
And the lists are pretty impressive.
For Tennessee we start with Peyton Manning. Aptly known as “The Sheriff,” Manning is an NFL Hall of Famer, vol-legend, voice communications graduate, and 1997 Heisman winner – for those who are not Charles Woodson.
Manning is also known for saying a lot of “Omaha” – especially when he was with the Broncos – and the GIF was used a lot last Sunday when Tennessee took its place in You-Know-Where.
Manning even made a hilarious appearance on a Tennessee video last week, correcting Tony Vitello on how to correctly pronounce the name of the CWS host city.
But where does it not have to appear? TD Ameritrade Park, especially on Tuesday afternoons – at least if Tennessee wants to win.
In recent years, Manning – while popular across the Volunteer State – has been notoriously associated with the Vols losing when he’s in the stands.
While alumni status is great and Manning has done way more than his fair share for the University of Tennessee, I think fans won’t want him anywhere near Nebraska anytime soon.
Aside from Manning, another famous Tennessee alum is ESPN personality Paul Finebaum.
Of course, Finebaum cut his teeth off at the Tennessee student newspaper The Daily Beacon before graduating with a political science degree in 1978.
He has since skyrocketed to become arguably the most famous SEC soccer personality of all time, as well as the most hated man in the state of Alabama.
For Texas, no name is synonymous with the Longhorns as Mr. “Alright, Alright, Alright” himself, Matthew McConaughey.
As an actor, McConaughey made his first breakthrough in 1993 comedy Dazed and Confused. He followed in a few other supporting roles before starring as Jake Brigance, a small town attorney, in the film adaptation of John Grisham’s A Time to Kill. This book is still one of my favorites, and McConaughey was phenomenal.
He has since starred primarily in romantic comedies and received an Emmy nomination for his role in True Detective.
But McConaughey did a lot more than just acting, as evidenced by his role as “Minister of Culture” on the 40 acres. What does this role include? I’m not totally sure.
However, I’m sure Texas will continue to give the green light – also the name of McConaughey’s insightful 2020 novel, see what I did there? – for every idea sparked by its most electrifying, versatile alumnus.
In addition to McConaughey, Laura Bush and Owen Wilson are two other famous Texas alums.
I really couldn’t decide which one, so I went for both. While it’s probably not a good thing that I have a hard time choosing between a former first lady and a blonde actor whose most famous word is “wow”.
Anyway, let’s get into that.
Bush has a master’s degree in Texas, technically, as she received her bachelor’s degree from SMU before graduating with a library science degree in Austin.
She married former President George W. Bush in 1977 and, as the First Lady of Texas, focused on health, education, and literacy initiatives.
As the First Lady of the United States, Bush did even more. She continued her brand interests of education and literacy by doing the annual National book festival in 2001 to promote global education. She also campaigned for women and represented the United States on disease-related international travel.
She has made several other public appearances since leaving the White House, most recently at the inauguration of President Joe Biden in 2021.
As mentioned, Wilson’s best-known word is monosyllabic. But he’s done a lot more in his illustrious comedic career.
Wilson, an American actor, producer, and screenwriter, received an Oscar nomination for the 2001 film Royal Tanenbaums. He also starred in the 2011 film Midnight in Paris – another good one if you haven’t seen it before – and was nominated for a Golden Globe Award.
Wilson’s more famous comedic roles can be seen in the series Wedding Crashers, You, Me & Dupree (grossly underrated), The Internship and The Night at the Museum.
Wilson was also moved to tears in Marley & Me and became America’s most popular racing car in his role as the voice of Lightning McQueen in the Cars series.
These are also just a few alumni from each school. But just like in his days against Florida, Peyton Manning can’t win here. Texas takes this off-field edge through a landslide.
Remember the Alamo
They needed to know it was coming, even though it and the other two criteria listed above did not affect the end result of today’s game.
If your high school history teachers were as good as me, you know the story. But here we go anyway.
In November 1835, Davy Crockett and 30 other men drove west to Texas. They stopped in Jackson, Tennessee, and moved on to Little Rock before arriving in Lone Star State in early 1836.
On February 8, Crockett arrived at the Alamo Mission. A little over two weeks later, General Antonio López de Santa Anna led soldiers in a siege of the building.
On February 25, over 200 Mexican soldiers posed outside the walls of the Alamo before firing at will. Crockett and Company returned the favor and sent the Mexican soldiers into retreat after a 90-minute battle.
Another battle took place on March 6, in which Crockett died valiantly defending the Alamo when Mexican soldiers took control.
Santa Anna was finally captured during the Battle of San Jacinto in 1836 when Texas forces shouted “Remember the Alamo!” Sam Houston then forced Santa Anna to sign an agreement that would end hostilities.
This agreement also marked the first steps in Texas’ independence from Mexico. Texas officially became the 28th state in the Union in December 1845, though formalities weren’t completed until 1846.
So the Tennessee Volunteers helped save Texas and gave the Vols today’s final off-field advantage.
The essentials: insights into the field
If you’ve come this far, congratulations. You are finally on the important part.
While the above comparisons are all fun, what really matters is what happens between the white lines.
And this is where Tennessee takes advantage of the final advantage in this column.
Yes, Texas (47-16) will be furious if there is a heartbreaking 2-1 loss to the state of Mississippi on Monday night. Yes, Texas outlasted one of college baseball’s favorite stories in the USF, beating the Bulls 4-3 and 12-4 in the Austin Super Regional.
But the Horns have also lost three times in a row this season, while the Vols (50-17) are 15-1 after 16 of those losses.
Three of the above 15 wins came in an SEC baseball tournament that began with the Vols losing to a controversial call to Alabama. In addition, Tennessee has six winning streaks of at least five games after one defeat.
The only consecutive declines were against the state of Indiana in late February.
Four months later, the stakes are much higher. Win or go home.
But the Vols have often had their backs to the wall. Just check out these examples from Hoover, or check out Evan Russell’s Grand Slam versus Vanderbilt, Max Ferguson’s Walk-Off versus Arkansas, or Drew Gilbert’s Walk-Off Grand Slam versus Wright State.
So, yes, Vitello was right when he said on Sunday that the Vols are “built for this”.
But the Tennessee manager added that his team “has a brand name to rejuvenate”.
This type of imprinting usually works well on cattle – especially after adding Jason Russell’s fiery statement to WBIR.
“He’s got something burning inside,” said Russell. “I can promise you, the state of Tennessee, that you will do your best in this area.”
See you at TD Ameritrade.