7. Auburn Tigers
Year: 1970 (Away – Birmingham)
Final score: No. 17 Tennessee Volunteers lose 36-23
There could have been many heartbreakers on here given Tennessee football’s history with the Auburn Tigers. Heck, their 10-9 and 10-6 losses over the next two year were both more heartbreaking in the scope of the games themselves. You could even do their 2003 loss right before the Georgia Bulldogs, as that also cost them the SEC East and a national title game.
This one, however, was more direct. Bill Battle, a 29-year-old Bear Bryant disciple, had just taken over as head coach for Doug Dickey, who left to coach his alma mater, the Florida Gators. After a 28-3 victory over the SMU Mustangs to start the year, the Vols reached the top 25.
Ranked No. 17 in the nation, they traveled to Birmingham to face their hated rival in Auburn. The Vols built a 10-0 lead in that game and should have stayed in control. However, they took their foot off the pedal.
In the process, Auburn roared back and took a huge lead. UT woke up and mounted a comeback, but it was too late, and they lost the game 36-23. This loss alone was bad. What it resulted in made things worse.
Battle’s team would go on to win out, including beating the Alabama Crimson Tide. However, this loss cost them a share of the SEC title with the LSU Tigers, as they went 4-1 in the league and LSU went 5-0.
UT was still the better team, as they beat the Air Force Falcons in the Sugar Bowl to finish 11-1 and ranked No. 4 in the nation. But losing this game cost them the SEC title and a shot at the national title, making it their worst loss ever to the Tigers.