No. 2 AP; Sugar Bowl berth
Although Tennessee football sunk into somewhat of a dark period after Robert Neyland stepped down, there were some bright spots under Bowden Wyatt. And this 1956 team was a very bright spot for the Vols.
They technically didn’t win the national championship like the 1951 team did. But their accomplishments within the conference are actually more impressive, which is why we put them ahead of that unit.
The big names may have not been there, but they were still led by guys like Buddy Cruze, Bill Johnson and Johnny Majors, who was robbed of the Heisman Trophy in a worse way than even Peyton Manning. This team dominated throughout its SEC stretch.
They went 10-0 and should have been declared national champions according to many people, including Keith Jackson, despite a 13-7 Sugar Bowl loss to the Baylor Bears. What was so impressive about this 10-0 team, however, was who they beat.
The Vols faced four of the other six teams in the conference to finish the season with a winning record, a much more impressive feat than the 1939 or 1940 teams. Even the 1951 team didn’t face the other best team in the conference, which is why they had to share the SEC title.
One of those teams was the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, led by former Vol Bobby Dodd. Tech was No. 3 at the time, and the Vols were No. 2. UT won the game 6-0 in Atlanta. It was one of the biggest wins in school history, and it is 10 times the quality win that any win in 1939, 1940 or 1951 bring to the table.
The Ole Miss Rebels, another quality win, were in the top 25 at the time the Vols beat them. It’s also worth noting that outside of Georgia Tech, UT beat everybody by double-digits, and the Kentucky Wildcats are the only other team they didn’t beat by 20 or more. So the margins are there along with the schedule, which is why this team is No. 3.