11. Vanderbilt Commodores
Year: 1926 (Away)
Final score: Tennessee Volunteers lose 20-3
Obviously the Vanderbilt Commodores, one of Tennessee football’s longest-lasting opponents, have delivered numerous heartbreaking losses to the Vols. Forget about them winning five of the last seven this decade. They went 11-0-1 in the first 12 matchups between the two schools, and that included a nine-game winning streak.
Heck, after1925, they had an 18-2-1 record against the Vols, which included UT’s most embarrassing loss in history, a 76-0 thrashing in 1918. However, that was with an unofficial team since varsity ball was suspended that year due to World War I.
So that WWI reasoning is why this doesn’t top the list of the worst Vols’ losses. The same holds true with 2005, which ended UT’s 22-game winning streak and their 16-year bowl streak. That one is closer, but we couldn’t put that over 1926.
This was Gen. Robert Neyland’s first year on the job as head coach after one year as an assistant. And the specific objective given to him by Nathan Dougherty, who would have been what was the athletic director at the time and hired Neyland, was to “even the score with Vanderbilt.”
After taking over a team that went 5-2-1 under M.B. Banks, Neyland immediately showed his promise. Tennessee football got off to a 7-0 start and was in contention to win the Southern Conference. But, once again, they lost to Vanderbilt. It was a blowout as well, as they fell 20-3 on the road.
A win over the Kentucky Wildcats meant for an 8-1 finish and 5-1 Southern Conference finish. That loss didn’t just cost them a win in the rivalry Neyland’s first year in light of his objective. It cost them a share of the Southern Conference title, which is while the Alabama Crimson Tide got to go back to the Rose Bowl. So yes, it was devastating.
But after tying the next year, Neyland began a period of UT dominance over the ‘Dores to the point that the series was tied up after his final retirement. So it all worked out. This first year was painful, though.