7. 1966: 8-3 (4-2)
Starting quarterback: Dewey Warren
W Gator Bowl; No. 14 Coaches
Tennessee football’s first quarterback to really be an impact passer was ironically nicknamed the “swamp rat,” which should be a term for a Florida Gators quarterback. But he was handpicked by Doug Dickey, a Florida grad, to restore the Vols to prominence in what was then the modern era with his new, fashionable T-formation.
Warren made a name for himself with a strong finish to the 1965 season, which saw the Vols go 8-1-2 and finish in the top 10. That raised expectations for 1966, and a 28-0 win at the Auburn Tigers immediately got them to No. 10.
However, the Vols had a couple of October slip-ups. They lost 6-3 to the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets and 11-10 to the Alabama Crimson Tide. After getting back into the top 10 with three straight victories, they suffered a 14-7 loss to the Ole Miss Rebels.
So the Vols lost three games all by one score. Still, they managed to win their final two regular season games and earn a Gator Bowl berth. There, they beat Syracuse 18-12 in front of an ABC crowd. The win allowed them to finish 8-3 and 4-2 in the league with a top 15 finish, which is better than the three top 25 finishes we had before this one.
As a result, this was a slightly better season. And it set the stage for an epic season, one in which the Vols would go 9-1 in the regular season, win the SEC Championship and retroactively capture a share of the national title.