4. 1931 Tennessee Volunteers
9-0-1 (6-0-1 SoCon)
In this early run of Tennessee football during Gen. Robert Neyland’s first stint, they had no greater claim to the national championship than 1931. A national title team gave them a right to claim it in 1928. They had as much as right as everybody else claiming it in 1927.
But in 1931, not only did they have a right to claim it. They were the best team in college football that year and should have been awarded the consensus national championship when the season ended.
The two champions that year were the USC Trojans and the Pittsburgh Panthers. Both teams had losses, USC to the Saint Mary’s Gaels in their opener and Pitt to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
Want to know of a team that didn’t lose any game that year? It was Tennessee football. The Vols went 9-0-1 and 6-0-1 in the Southern Conference. Now, to be fair, they didn’t win the conference title. That went to the Tulane Green Wave, who went 8-0 in the league while the Vols went 6-0-1.
But Tennessee’s one tie was against the Kentucky Wildcats on the road, and Kentucky did go 5-2-2 that year. Meanwhile, Tulane did not have to play Kentucky. To be fair, they did go undefeated during the regular season, so they have a stake to claim the title as well.
However, then we do go to tiebreakers, and that’s when we use bowl games. USC beat Tulane in the Rose Bowl. Either way you look at it, the Vols at least deserved the national title over the two teams that won it. If you don’t factor in postseason, the only team that has a claim over them is Tulane. If you do factor it in, they deserve the title outright. As a result, this season is on the list.