No. 22 Southern Miss Golden Eagles at No. 13 Tennessee Volunteers
Final Score: Tennessee wins 19-16
Of all the scares on this list, this one is actually the least shocking. By the time the late 1990s arrived, the Southern Miss Golden Eagles became a very solid mid-major program under Jeff Bower. They were actually ranked in 1997, despite being scheduled as a homecoming game, wen they met the Vols and Peyton Manning then.
In 2000, again, they entered this game as a preseason top 25 team after winning the Conference USA Championship in 1999. Meanwhile, Tennessee football was expected to have its first drop-off in six years after a legendary five-year run. Tee Martin was gone and they lost a ton of talent overall to the NFL.
To make matters worse, Phillip Fulmer was going to turn to true freshman Casey Clausen at quarterback, but a shoulder injury forced him and Randy Sanders to alternate between Joey Mathews and A.J. Suggs. The result was a very scary start to this game.
Mathews started and threw an interception, spotting the Golden Eagles a 3-0 lead. The Vols then went down the field, and Cedrick Wilson caught a wobbly pass from Mathews for a touchdown after he was hit while throwing it.
Up 7-3, Fulmer turned to Suggs and his dominant defensive line, led by John Henderson. The Vols cashed in with a safety, a touchdown and a field goal. So they were up 19-3. But with so much youth and limited depth, fourth quarter issues that would plague the team all year began here. Southern Miss scored two fourth quarter touchdowns to cut it to 19-16.
The Vols recovered an onside kick late to hold on and run out the clock. But the rebuilding season was evident. They would get off to a 2-3 start, including blowing a game against the Florida Gators two weeks later, before Clausen would start and regroup the team to finish 8-4.