8-4 (3-3); W Garden State Bowl
1980 record: 5-6 (3-3)
After 1980, Johnny Majors was really starting to raise eyebrows. When Tennessee football hired him in 1977, he was coming off a national championship with the Pitt Panthers. Considering the fact that he was the leader of the beloved 1956 Vols and should’ve won the Heisman that year, his homecoming seemed like a home run hire.
But after the most losses in school history in 1977, a .500 season in 1978 and a 7-5 season in 1979, a 5-6 season in 1980 made it seem like things weren’t working out. He had bought enough good will because of his name and because of how behind the program was when it came to facilities and things needed to recruit. Still, he had to turn things around.
Well, in 1981, Majors did just that. It didn’t start out well, as the Georgia Bulldogs and USC Trojans both blew the Vols out after barely beating them to start 1980. But a dominating win over the Colorado State Rams and then two close 10-7 wins over the Auburn Tigers and Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets had them at 3-2.
Down the stretch, they only lost two more games, at the Alabama Crimson Tide and at the Kentucky Wildcats. But they ran the table against all the bad teams to finish 7-4, and then in the Garden State Bowl, they scored a great 28-21 win over the Wisconsin badgers for their first eight-win season since 1973. It was the first of seven straight winning seasons.