4. 1972 Tennessee Volunteers: 10-2 (4-2 SEC)
The 1972 Tennessee football team should have been less talented than the 1971 team overall. But Bill Battle struck gold on the recruiting trail just enough to extend his coaching career with the Vols by luring Condredge Holloway to Rocky Top.
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As a result, this team fielded the first black quarterback to start in the SEC. And Holloway was as electrifying as anybody could have predicted. It was exactly what the Vols needed with skepticism surrounding the program at the time.
Ranked No. 15 to start the year, Holloway led the Vols to a 34-3 victory over the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets to open the season on the road. The very next week, they moved up to No. 7 and hosted the No. 6 ranked Penn State Nittany Lions.
For the second straight year, the Vols upset Joe Paterno’s team. As a result, they moved to 3-0 after beating the Wake Forest Demon Deacons. But, just like 1971, they would lose to the same two teams, the Auburn Tigers and Alabama Crimson Tide.
Unlike 1971, both games were heartbreakers. Tennessee football’s first loss was a 10-6 game to Auburn. Then they lost 17-10 in a hard-fought game against Alabama. A win over Memphis State in the middle was all they had, and a 3-0 team in the Top 5 was all of a sudden 4-2.
The Vols did win the rest of their games, though, to finish the season 9-2. They then faced the No. 10 ranked LSU Tigers in the Bluebonnet Bowl and won the game 24-17. As a result, this was another 10-2 team that finished in the Top 10.
Holloway made this team slightly better than the 1971 team. If he could have played with those ’71 players, the Vols would have won a national championship. But because they were different years, both seasons resulted in 10-2 records with losses to Alabama and Auburn, which cost them championships, but huge wins in their bowl game and over Penn State. As identical as they are, this team gets the nod to be a bit higher because it was close in both of its losses.