8-1-2 (2-1-2); No. 7 AP and Coaches; W Bluebonnet Bowl
1964 record: 4-5-1 (1-5-1)
It was Tennessee football’s first successful season playing in an updated era after Robert Neyland. Sure, Bowden Wyatt had gone 10-1 in 1956, but that was still a program built in the mold of the General. Here, Doug Dickey had changed everything.
Dickey took over a floundering program in 1964. It had gone 4-6 and 5-5 the previous two years under Wyatt and Jim McDonald. After one year of McDonald, Dickey came along to bring the program into a new age, most notably by installing his T-formation offense, but also establishing traditions like running through the T, checkerboard end zones and the Power T on the helmets.
Amidst all of that, they still suffered a 4-5-1 rebuilding season in 1964 as they adjusted to the new schemes. That season did include a tie and a win over two top 10 teams, the LSU Tigers and Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, that got them to 4-2-1 at one point. But then they lost their final three games.
Anyway, in 1965, Dickey’s team was adjusted, and he had his players. The result was dramatic turnaround. Wins over the Army Black Knights and South Carolina Gamecocks along with ties against the Auburn Tigers and Alabama Crimson Tide had them 2-0-2 to start the year. Then they beat the Houston Cougars and No. 7 ranked Georgia Tech to get to 4-0-2.
All of a sudden, this program had arrived and was looking at a potential SEC title. A close 14-13 loss to the Ole Miss Rebels dashed those hopes. But UT still rebounded to win out. The highlight of the year was a 37-34 win over the Rose Bowl bound and No. 5 ranked UCLA Bruins in Memphis, the game in which the legend of Dewey Warren was born.
After that, Tennessee football won the Bluebonnet Bowl to finish 8-1-2 and No. 7 in the nation. It began a streak of 12 straight winning seasons and 10 straight seasons with a bowl berth and top 25 finish. On top of that, two SEC titles and a retroactive national title would be in those years, as would five top 10 finishes. So this season was a turnaround and ushering in of a new era.