9. 1916 Tennessee Volunteers
8-0-1 (6-0-1 SIAA)
On the surface, I would say that this Tennessee football team probably doesn’t need to claim a national championship. After all, the Pittsburgh Panthers did go undefeated that year as the dynasty of that time.
However, it is true the Vols didn’t lose a game this year. And they actually shared the SIAA championship with the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. Billingsley, meanwhile, declared Georgia Tech national champions in addition to the Panthers.
Like the Vols, Georgia Tech’s only blemish on the year was a tie. Like the Vols, their tie was at home. And like the Vols, it was to a team with a winning record. Tennessee’s was to the Kentucky Wildcats, a scoreless game at the end of the year. How do you distinguish between the two at this point?
Simply put, if Georgia Tech can be declared national champions on the year, then Tennessee football should go ahead and put up a banner for themselves. The Vols had huge wins over Vanderbilt and Sewanee that year, and yes, those games count. It was John R. Bender’s first season, as he took over for Zora G. Clevenger.
With his new system, he developed an early superstar in Knoxville in Buck Hatcher. Hatcher was a triple-threat as a quarterback, punter and tackle. He did it all and may have been the best player in the nation this year. As a result, he deserves a national title to his name as much as anybody on that Georgia Tech team does.