6. 1987: 10-2-1 (4-1-1)
Starting quarterback: Jeff Francis
W Peach Bowl; No. 14 AP; No. 13 Coaches
In 1985, Tennessee football seemingly proved it was back as a program under Johnny Majors with a 9-1-2 season and top 5 finish. That they did it after Tony Robinson was injured and Daryl Dickey came in for the final six games implied a quarterback was not necessary to the program Majors had built. However, the Vols stumbled to a 7-5 finish in 1986 despite a preseason top 10 ranking.
Jeff Francis was quarterback, and the blemishes included heartbreaking upset losses to the Mississippi State Bulldogs, Army Black Knights and Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets en route to a 2-5 start. Francis rebounded, though, and the Vols finished the year winning their final five games, including the Liberty Bowl over the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
That strong finish set the stage for Francis’s junior year in 1987, and the Vols opened the season ranked No. 17 with a neutral site matchup against the No. 16 ranked Iowa Hawkeyes in the Kickoff Classic in New Jersey. UT set the tone right, as they came back to win that game 23-22 off a game-winning field goal.
A 4-0-1 start with a tie against the No. 3 ranked Auburn Tigers had the Vols in the top 10 in October. However, they had two stumbles that month. One was another loss to the Alabama Crimson Tide, and the other was a major upset loss to the Boston College Eagles. So they were then 5-2-1.
The team then rebounded again, though, to dominate in November, winning out and earning a Peach Bowl bid. In the Peach Bowl, they scored a thrilling victory over the Indiana Hoosiers for their first 10-win season since 1972 and a top 15 finish. So it was still successful year.