6. 1942 Tennessee Volunteers: 9-1-1 (4-1 SEC)
Tennessee football’s final team before the cancelled season due to World War II was legendary. John Barnhill was in his second year as the Vols’ head coach after Robert Neyland had already left for the war. His first year was solid.
This year, however, was a breakout campaign. The Vols started the year rocky, tying the South Carolina Gamecocks on the road. They responded with two wins over Fordham and Dayton before losing to the No. 4 ranked Alabama Crimson Tide on the road.
At 2-1-1, this seemed like a mediocre year in the works. But they turned things around and on the rest of their games. In that winning streak included a dominating 26-0 win over the LSU Tigers. They also beat the Vanderbilt Commodores on the road, another winning team to close out the season.
Tennessee football’s 8-1-1 record was enough to earn them a trip to the Sugar Bowl, where they faced the No. 4 ranked Tulsa Golden Hurricanes. Finishing the year ranked No. 7 in the nation, a win over Tulsa was just icing on the cake. The Vols finished 9-1-1, in the Top 10 and had a Sugar Bowl victory.
Other teams under Barnhill were close to reaching this status, including 1944 and 1945. But those teams couldn’t make the list because they didn’t beat any ranked teams. This team did, and the bowl game was an added bonus. That’s why they made the list. It was definitely Barnhill’s best team while he was on Rocky Top.