No. 4 AP and Coaches; W Sugar Bowl
Five years after Tennessee football returned as a program under Doug Dickey, they were at their peak. But Dickey, after the 1969 season, left to take the head coaching job at his alma mater, the Florida Gators, and his trusted assistant, Bill Battle, took over the Vols.
Nobody knew what to make of Battle, who was only 28 years old at the time. As a result, despite their run in the late 1960s, including a 9-2 record and SEC title in 1969, they entered 1970 outside of the preseason AP Poll, and by this point it had moved to a top 20 instead of top 10.
Still, leaders like Jackie Walker, Bobby Majors, Chip Kell, Bobby Scott, Lester McClain and Phillip Fulmer proved this was an elite team. And they got right back into the polls after their 28-3 win over the SMU Mustangs to open the season. A 36-23 loss to the Auburn Tigers in their second game, though, knocked them right back out.
A week later, they snuck back in with a 48-3 win over the Army Black Knights. Then they beat the No. 13 ranked Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets on the road and shut out the Alabama Crimson Tide. At that point, they moved up into the top 15, and after beating the Florida Gators, they cracked the top 10. They would not leave the rest of the year either.
UT ran the table, closing out the regular season with another big win over the UCLA Bruins. Although 10-1 wasn’t enough to win the SEC, as the LSU Tigers finished 5-0 in the league, the Vols still got the Sugar Bowl invite as LSU would face the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the Orange Bowl. In that Sugar Bowl, they beat the Air Force Falcons 34-13.
So while there was no SEC Championship here, Tennessee football did have a great season by going 11-1, finishing in the Top Five and winning the Sugar Bowl. You can’t ask for much more than that after starting the year unranked.