7. 1996 Tennessee Volunteers: 10-2 (7-1 SEC)
Unlike the 1965 Tennessee football team, this is a Vols team that is a disappointment for not winning the SEC. Nonetheless, these Vols are among the best teams ever to not win the SEC, and they were part of an elite run.
Heading into the year, Tennessee was coming off an 11-1 season and returning junior quarterback Peyton Manning. They opened the season ranked No. 2 and favored to win the SEC Championship. But those hopes were quickly dashed.
The Vols fell behind 35-0 to the Florida Gators right off the bat due to a series of turnovers. It’s one of the worst collapses of all time. They fought back in the second half and only lost 35-29. But six turnovers were too much to overcome.
At that point, Tennessee could only match what it did a year ago, when it went 11-1 and only lost to Florida. It couldn’t even do that.
Tennessee football lost a heartbreaker to the Memphis Tigers, their only loss ever in the series, 21-17 in November off a kickoff return TD that should have been ruled down. That detracted a lot from this team, which clearly underachieved.
To be fair, though, amidst all of this, the Vols did have some nice wins. They beat the UCLA Bruins and the Georgia Bulldogs early on. And they came back from 13-0 down to beat the Alabama Crimson Tide 20-13. It was their second straight win in the series, and Alabama was undefeated at the time.
The Vols closed out the season with a Citrus Bowl blowout over the Northwestern Wildcats. So they were able to finish 10-2 and in the Top 10 once again. Despite no championship, and as Spurrier once joked, not even a state championship, this was a really outstanding team. As a result, they made the list.