All week long we’ve counted down the top moments of the 2017 sports year in Middle Tennessee. From the top plays to the top it’s been a magnificent year for sports fans, and there has been no shortage of amazing stories headlines of course by the Predators’ postseason run that captivated the city, region and entire hockey world on the way to the Stanley Cup Final.
If you missed any of our other countdowns, make sure to check out them out here:
Remember, these lists were compiled based off of my notes, our coverage at the time and the lasting impact of these events. So without further ado, here are our top 10 middle Tennessee Sports Stories Of the year.
10. TITANS DRAFT TWO FIRST ROUNDERS
After trading down from the no. 1 overall pick in 2016, the Titans had an extra first round pick courtesy of the Rams at April’s NFL Draft in Philadelphia. General Manager Jon Robinson quickly went to work on two of the team’s biggest weaknesses, drafting Western Michigan wide receiver Corey Davis fifth overall and versatile cornerback Adoree’ Jackson of USC 18th. Davis, the FBS’s all-time receiving leader, has shown flashes of being special, but has been hampered by a lingering hamstring injury that cost him the first half of his roomie season. Jackson has started every game at cornerback and returner for improved secondary and special teams units.
9. AUSTIN PEAY TURNAROUND
The Governors entered the 2017 season with the nation’s longest losing streak of 27 games, but with the top recruiting class in the FCS under second-year coach Will Healy. After consecutive losses to FBS programs Cincinnati and Miami (Ohio) extended the streak to 29, the Govs broke through with a 69-13 smackdown Of Morehead State. Seven more wins in nine games followed as Austin Peay nearly completed a worst to first turnaround, going 7-1 in the OVC. The team’s only losses came against FBS schools and fourth-ranked Jacksonville State, which was good enough to earn Healy the Eddie Robinson FCS Coach Of The Year Award, but somehow not good enough to land Peay a spot in the 24-team FCS Playoffs.
8. PREDATORS ACQUIRE TURRIS
Already a Stanley Cup favorite after reaching the Cup Final last summer, the Predators bolstered their roster even further in late October when general manager David Poile acquired playmaking center Kyle Turris from the Senators as part of a three-team trade. The Preds dealt top young prospects Samuel Girard and Vladislav Kamanev to Colorado in the deal geared to put them over the top right now, and so far the move has paid dividends. Turris has X points in X games with the Predators, sparking one of the best lines in hockey along with Craig Smith and Kevin Fiala, and the Preds have surged into the group of teams leading the Western Conference standings.
7. MIDDLE TENNESSEE PULLS UPSET AGAIN
It was far from the Blue Raiders’ stunner over tournament favorite Michigan State in 2016, but they once again beat a Big Ten team in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Middle Tennessee downed Minnesota 81-72 in a classic 12 over five
upset behind 19 points from Reggie Upshaw to advance to the second round for the second straight year. The victory gave Middle a school record 31 wins on the season and cemented its place as one of the top mid-major programs in the country.
6. TENNESSEE, VANDERBILT STRUGGLES
When Vanderbilt traveled to Tennessee for their annual Thanksgiving weekend showdown, the two teams sat at a combined 0-14 in SEC play, just the second time in history that both programs entered their game winless in the conference. A strong second half propelled Vandy to a win and sent the Vols to a school record eighth loss on the season and first winless conference slate since the 1920’s. Tennessee coach Butch Jones was actually fired two weeks before that season finale, with the rest of his staff to follow at the end of the year. Vanderbilt’s Derek Mason now needs to show improvement in his fifth season in 2018 or may face a similar fate.
5. MLS COMES TO NASHVILLE
Two decades after landing the Oilers and then the Predators Nashville was awarded its third major league sports franchise in late December. Nashville S.C. becomes the 24th franchise in the MLS and is set to begin play in 2020 at a newly constructed $250 Million, 27,500 seat stadium. The MLS decision to award Nashville a franchise caps a whirlwind 12 months in which Music City went from a long shot among the 12 cities being considered for two expansion teams to the only city awarded a franchise. That’s credit to John Ingram and city leadership for being proactive in organizing a strong ownership group and developing and passing a stadium deal in short order.
4. TITANS END PLAYOFF DROUGHT
After nearly a decade of frustration the Titans are finally headed back to the playoffs, clinching a AFC Wild Card spot on the final day of the season with a 15-10 win over the rival Jaguars. The victory helped the Titans avoid one of the worst December collapses of all-time, snapping a three-game losing streak that dropped them from 8-4 and first place in the AFC South to nearly out of the playoff picture. The offense never reached it's potential with Marcus Mariota fighting back from and through injuries during the season and the running game well off it's prolific pace from a year ago, but the defense dominated at times and the Titans won six one possession games to finish 9-7 for the second straight year and reach the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
3. TENNESSEE COACHING SEARCH
When Jones was fired on November 12th it became John Currie’s job to find Tennessee’s next head football coach. Three weeks later the Vols were the laughingstock of college football and Currie was out of a job, replaced as athletic director by former national champion football coach Phillip Fulmer. Currie’s public trust had eroded after a series of events that began with him reaching a deal to hire Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano, then backing out of the deal amid public and online protests from a frustrated fan base. He then attempted to hire Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy, Purdue’s Jeff Brohm and N.C. State’s Dave Doeren, publicly whiffing on all of them while Fulmer and other university officials reportedly undermined the search process. On December 1st, Currie was sacked and Fulmer stepped in to pick up the search, settling on Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt less than a week later. Pruitt is an excellent defensive coach and strong recruiter than knows the SEC well, but the process that led to his hiring tarnished the Tennessee brand in ways that may take significant time to recover from.
2. PREDATORS PLAYOFF RUN
Never before had the Predators made it past the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but that changed in 2017 when the eight seed marched to the Western Conference title in front of electric atmospheres both inside and outside Bridgestone Arena. Nashville’s run started with a sweep of top seed Chicago behind a pair of shutouts from goaltender Pekka Rinne, and continued with a 4-2 series win over St. Louis. The magic continued as the Preds outlasted the hated Ducks 4-2 in the Western Conference Final, capped off by a 6-3 victory at home in game six. Colton Sissons scored a hat trick in the win, sparking a wild celebration unlike this city had ever seen before on lower Broadway and the area surrounding the arena where crowds had grown throughout the playoff run, watching games on big screens in the plaza and in Walk of Fame Park. Accompanied by a star-studded lineup of national anthem singers from Carrie Underwood to Lady Antebellum, beer chugging offensive lineman, catfish on the ice and the envy of the world, the Predators became a phenomenon, and there was even more to come.
1. STANLEY CUP MEETS CMA FEST
The downtown crowds steadily grew throughout the playoffs to the nearly 50,000 that lined the streets for the Predators’ Stanley Cup Final games. But game six of the Final brought a confluence of two of the biggest events in Nashville history mere minutes and feet from one another. June 12th was the final day of the annual CMA Music Festival with more than 100,000 people circulating through downtown. But as music revelers headed towards Nissan Stadium for the festival’s final show, thousands more people dressed in gold filled lower Broadway and the surrounding area for game six against the Penguins. Luke Bryan held a pregame concert from the rooftop of Tootsies, Faith Hill sang the national anthem, and a roaring crowd broke decibel meters while trying to will a Preds’ team with its back against the wall into a game seven. But with the Stanley Cup in the building, ex-Pred Patric Hornqvist banked a shot off the back of Pekka Rinne and in with just 95 seconds left, giving the Penguins a 1-0 victory that clinch a second straight title. A heartbreaking end to an unforgettable ride that brought strangers together with a common bond for two months last spring, and changed the perception of hockey in Nashville forever.