National Championship; No. 2 AP; W Orange Bowl
Back to the Golden Years, the 1938 team is the one that stands above all the others in the Tennessee football SEC Title three-peat of the late 1930s during Robert Neyland’s second stint. This may be the most significant team of all time.
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As we said in a post comparing UT eras to Disney Animation eras, this was the start of the Golden Age for UT, and this season was the “Snow White.” The Vols won their first SEC Championship, they went undefeated, had their first double-digit wins season, made their first bowl game, won that bowl game, and were recognized for their first official national championship.
The team itself had everybody that the legendary 1939 and 1940 teams had when it comes to notable names: George Cafego, Abe Shires, Ed Molinski, Bob Foxx and Bob Suffridge. But they also had a bigger playing legend than all of them at the time, Bowden Wyatt.
With that talent, this team rolled through the SEC. They shutout every opponent except Sewanee, who they beat 26-3, and the LSU Tigers, who they beat 14-6. More importantly, they racked up quality wins this year.
UT beat the second best team in the SEC behind them, the Alabama Crimson Tide, in a 13-0 blowout victory. They also got a 14-0 quality win over the Vanderbilt Commodores, who finished the year with a 6-3 record. Those wins give the Vols more quality wins than the 1939 and 1940 teams by a long shot, and their average margin of victory was greater too.
Simply put, this Tennessee football team was the peak team for Neyland. You couldn’t do any better than the 1938 Vols, and that’s why they remain up here on our list. It’s also worth noting that this would be the last undefeated UT team for 60 years, until the top team on this list.