This is the only conference championship team we have in the top 10 that wasn’t an SEC Championship team. In fact, they weren’t even a Southern Conference Championship team. But they are one of the most important teams in Tennessee football history.
After joining the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association in their return from the lost years in 1896 and then having J.A. Pierce as their first head coach in 1899, the Vols had years of inconsistency. They suffered through seven head coaches and six losing seasons coming back from the Spanish-American War through 1910.
But Zora G. Clevenger took over in 1911. He had another losing season before going .500 in 1912 and then, finally, having a winning season at 6-3 in 1913. This was the breakout team, though, with early names like Alonzo Carroll, Farmer Kelly, Mush Kerr, and Rus Lindsay. The Vols got off on a roll with an 89-0 win over Carson-Newman and a 55-3 win over King.
They continued their dominance when conference play began, shutting out the Clemson Tigers 27-0, dominating Chattanooga 67-0, and controlling the Alabama Crimson Tide and Kentucky Wildcats 17-7 and 23-6 respectively. But the big story is what they did to the Vanderbilt Commodores.
Up to that point, they had never won a game in the series. They finally pulled it off here, 16-14. The next week, they beat their other in-state rival at the time, Sewanee, 14-7. In the end, UT went 9-0 and 6-0, winning the SIAA Championship, which was their first conference title.
Barely beating Vanderbilt and Sewanee while also playing at a time when southern football wasn’t as relevant would seem to mean this team should be lower on the list. However, they actually were retroactively awarded a national title by 1st-N-Goal. While this is unrecognized, the 1914 team getting national attention in shows it was dominant for its time.