No. 7 AP; Orange Bowl berth
You would think we would put Tennessee football teams with a blemish on their record towards the bottom of this list. But the 1946 Vols were a special case for many reasons. This was the first team in Robert Neyland’s third stint, as he came back from World War II and took over for John Barnhill.
UT’s last SEC title was 1940, which was the last year Neyland had coached on Rocky Top. That he took the Vols 9-2 and won the SEC title again showed he still had it. However, a few things were misleading about this.
For starters, the Vols had to share this title with the Georgia Bulldogs, as both went 5-0 in the league Meanwhile, despite quality wins over the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, Kentucky Wildcats and Alabama Crimson Tide, Neyland’s team just did not look good in the process.
The Vols only won one SEC game by more than one score, and it was a 12-point win over the Alabama Crimson Tide. It’s also worth pointing out that some of the teams, most notably the Florida Gators, were still not at full strength with so many players still serving in the war.
As a result, this was a competition among secondary athletes in the SEC. We usually don’t factor that in, but in light of what the league had turned into, it has to count against the Vols. And they had a big advantage with Neyland back.
If you want proof this team was overrated, they lost to the Wake Forest Demon Deacons in the regular season and then lost their Orange Bowl to the Rice Owls. Then they fell to .500 the next two years once the league began to return to full strength.