Robert Neyland: 11-1 (4-1)
National Champions; W Cotton Bowl; No. 4 AP Poll; No. 3 Coaches Poll
After proving he was back during the 1949 season, Robert Neyland was set to take off in 1950 with even more elite talent. Those same legendary Tennessee football names, Bill Pearman, Ted Daffer, Bud Sherrod and Hank Lauricella were back.
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Meanwhile, other superstars were joining the program, including John Michels and future NFL Hall of Famer Doug Atkins. Coming off a 7-2-2 season, this team was loaded and looking to make its first bowl game since 1946.
Again, despite not making a bowl in 1949, the season was still a solid one given the time. Anyway, the going looked rough early. Despite starting the year ranked No. 4, UT lost 7-0 to the Mississippi State Bulldogs in the second game of the season. That was a bad upset, as MSU would go 4-5 on the year.
Unranked after that, they got back to No. 14 in the nation with an upset 28-7 blowout win on the road against the No. 14 ranked Duke Blue Devils. They then ran the table to get to 8-1 in a schedule that included another quality win over the Alabama Crimson Tide, who would finish the year 9-2 and ranked No. 16.
But the highlight came against the Kentucky Wildcats. UT had owned UK for years, and Neyland in particular owned Bear Bryant. But this was Bryant’s best team, as the Wildcats were 10-0, ranked No. 3 in the nation and thinking about a national title. The Vols, however, took advantage of a major blizzard that just happened to hit Knoxville the day of the game to pull off another win.
It was a huge upset for them, as they were ranked No. 9 at the time. After that victory, they vaulted up to No. 4. Kentucky still technically won the SEC by the luck of playing one more game, which got them to 5-1 while the Vols finished 4-1, and 10-1 overall, after closing out the season against the Vanderbilt Commodores.
Still, UT was able to claim a national championship from multiple services. They then went on to face the No. 3 ranked Texas Longhorns in the Cotton Bowl and won that 20-14, finishing 11-1 overall and setting the stage for their 1951 national title team.
Kentucky beating the Oklahoma Sooners in the Sugar Bowl and the Army Black Knights losing to the Navy Midshipmen at the end of the year meant that if the polls were done today, Tennessee football would have been consensus national champs. So yeah, this was a great year coming off three straight seasons with no bowl appearance.