3. 1970 (’71 Sugar Bowl): Tennessee beats Air Force 34-13
Head Coach: Bill Battle
Bill Battle inherited loads of talent from what Doug Dickey had left him. So when he took over in 1970, expectations were pretty high. And he had the pressure of living up to them. Still, they started the year unranked.
But Tennessee football would go 10-1 on the year with leaders like Phillip Fulmer, Tim Priest and Jackie Walker. Numerous huge wins earned them a Sugar Bowl berth to face the Air Force Falcons. Just getting to the Sugar Bowl made this a great season.
Air Force was an underdog at the time, ranked No. 13. Ben Martin was leading a 9-2 team that had shocked the world with its play. The Falcons’ offense averaged over 400 yards a game while Tennessee’s defense gave up fewer than 100 yards a game. So something had to give.
Well, it all worked out for the Vols early on. They actually put on the offensive show, scoring 24 points in the first quarter and jumping out to a 24-7 lead. It was one of the most fun games for fans on Rocky Top to witness.
Tennessee football controlled the game the rest of the way and dominated Air Force 34-13. The win solidified an 11-1 finish for this team and a No. 4 ranking. That combined with the fact that it was the Sugar Bowl makes this a great win for a first-year head coach.
Of course, nobody realized the program would fall apart under Bill Battle a few years later. At this point, there was plenty of reason to be in love with the program, and this game was partly why.