While 1896 is the first undefeated season in school history for the Vols, the 1914 season is the first of championship seasons for Tennessee football. It’s really what reset the standard for the Vols going into the future.
After struggling in the 1900s worse than they have done so during the 2010s, the Vols turned to Zora G. Clevenger to restore their program in the 1910s. He went 3-4-2 and 4-4 his first two years, but a 6-3 record in 1913 gave hope.
Then came this year. The Vols got off on a red-hot streak, beating Carson Newman 89-0 and then King University 55-3. A 27-0 victory over the Clemson Tigers was a major highlight of the season, but it followed with a 66-0 victory over the Louisville Cardinals. So they got off to a 4-0 start with a combined score of 237-3, signaling total domination.
The rivalry games came after that start. Against the Alabama Crimson Tide, a future rival, the Vols held on 17-7. They then beat the Chattanooga Mocs 67-0 in another dominant performance. But the highlight of the year came a week later.
At Dudley Field in Nashville, the Vols got their first win in school history over the Vanderbilt Commodores, a 16-14 thriller. To that point, Vandy had an 11-0-1 all-time record in the series and had won nine straight. So this was huge, and UT took that momentum to beat Sewanee, their other in-state rival at the time, and the Kentucky Wildcats.
When it was over, Clevenger’s team was 9-0 and had its first ever conference championship, winning the SIAA. He would leave a year later, allowing John R. Bender to take over and share another SIAA title in 1916 before World War I. But this season set the standard for success on Rocky Top.