Two years before this year, Tennessee football had won its first conference championship. But the coach who did it, Zora G. Clevenger, left after the 1915 season. So John R. Bender came along, and it seemed like the Vols would fall back into mediocrity like what they suffered in the 1900s.
However, the Vols had an impressive run and finished the year 8-0-1, 6-0-1 in the SIAA. They held five of their seven conference opponents scoreless, including in their tie against the Kentucky Wildcats, which ended at 0-0.
Given the state of the sport at the time, though, and the relevance of southern teams on the national stage, we have to limit the respect we can give this UT team to win a conference title. Despite no losses, the Ivy League, Big Ten (then Western Conference) and Pacific Coast teams along with Independents in those regions were the kings of college football.
No reasonable person believes that this Vols team, unlike Vols teams of the future, could compete on the national stage. As a result, to be ranked higher, they would have had to do something impressive, like register numerous blowouts and have no blemishes.
They had some blowouts, but the tie was a blemish on the record. And the fact that it resulted in them sharing the title with the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, a share that only came because the Vols had two more games to stay as many games above .500 since GT didn’t even have a tie, forces us to keep this one down here.