1. 1995 Tennessee Volunteers: 11-1 (7-1 SEC)
This was the season to usher in the dominance of the late 1990s that Tennessee football enjoyed. It was the peak of Phillip Fulmer’s career, and it opened the floodgates. The 1995 season was vintage Vols in almost too many ways.
Coming off an 8-4 rebuilding year, the expectations were high from the start. A loaded offensive line was returning, another elite recruiting class came in, Jay Graham was to take the reigns in the running game, and sophomore phenom Peyton Manning was ready to take his next step. He did that and then some.
Tennessee football had numerous highlights this year. They beat the Georgia Bulldogs off a game-winning field goal from a freshman kicker in Jeff Hall. They also defeated the SEC West Champions on the road in the Arkansas Razorbacks. And, in one of the biggest highlights, they beat the 11-1 and Top 5 Ohio State Buckeyes in the Citrus Bowl, shutting down Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George.
But the peak highlight of the year was a 41-14 win over the Alabama Crimson Tide. Before the retroactive win of 1993 was awarded, Tennessee had not beaten the Tide in 10 years. They had suffered numerous frustrating losses.
Manning delivered one of the greatest performances of his college career. He hit Joey Kent for a touchdown on the first play of the game en route to three touchdown passes. On top of that, he pulled off the greatest play-action bootleg of all time to walk into the end zone for another touchdown. Tennessee football won this game 41-14, the official game to establish that they were in their peak and clearly a dominant powerhouse.
The only drawback for these Vols was one half. They lost to the Florida Gators in a 62-36 blowout in The Swamp. That happened despite them building a 30-14 lead and going into halftime up 30-21. Manning and co. seemed in control. But a monsoon came in the second half, causing a litany of mistakes and setting the Gators’ offense off. They scored 41 straight points. If not for that odd half to the eventual SEC Champions, this team would have played for the national title. As it is, they are just the greatest Tennessee football team to not win any championship.