7. 1941: Tennessee beats Vanderbilt 26-7
Head Coach: John Barnhill
Yes, we know that right now the only teams to make this list in games are the Vanderbilt Commodores and South Carolina Gamecocks. But these were huge wins for Tennessee football relative to the time.
So here, we take you back to 1941. Robert Neyland had left for the second time for active duty service in the military. And once again, hopes were low among Vol Nation. After all, they fell off miserably for just the one year he was gone the first time under W.H. Britton in 1935.
This year, John Barnhill would be at the helm. And fortunately for the Vols, it became a different story. They started off 2-2 with losses to the Duke Blue Devils and Alabama Crimson Tide. Then they reeled off five straight, highlighted by an amazing 14-7 win at the No. 18 Boston College Eagles, a game that just missed this list.
But the highlight of the season came at the end. With an 7-2 record, the No. 12 ranked Vanderbilt Commodores came to town at 8-1. They had just beaten the No. 7 ranked Alabama Crimson Tide in an upset. A win over the Vols and a loss by the Mississippi State Bulldogs at the favored Ole Miss Rebels would give them the SEC Championship.
It didn’t happen. Before retiring, Neyland had begun to turn the tide in the rivalry against Vanderbilt, and Barnhill kept it going. Tennessee football dominated the Commodores at home 26-7. On top of that, Mississippi State tied Ole Miss. But the real story was Tennessee’s dominant win.
It allowed the Vols to finish 8-2 on the year and was just the spark the Vols needed to prove they could win with Neyland gone. The next year, they went 9-1-1, finished in the Top 10 and won the Sugar Bowl. And in their return from World War II in 1944, they went 7-1-1 and made it to the Rose Bowl. Then they went 8-1 in 1945. All this came from the momentum off that Vanderbilt win.