Lost to Arkansas Razorbacks 25-24; South Carolina Gamecocks 24-23
9-3 (5-3); No. 12 AP and Coaches; W Hall of Fame Bowl
We start this list with a unique season in that Tennessee football suffered two upset losses, which will make our description here longer than the others. Both were one-point losses to SEC newcomers who would both finish the season with a losing record.
They also were part of a three-game losing streak surrounding a loss to eventual national champion Alabama Crimson Tide and resulting in a coaching transition that would forever alter the course of the Vols. So these upsets were real.
This was the year in which longtime UT head coach and former UT All-American Johnny Majors, who had been there since 1977, would have to miss the start of the season due to open-heart surgery. Filling in for the man who coached UT to three SEC titles and won a national championship with the Pittsburgh Panthers was his offensive coordinator, Phillip Fulmer.
With a new quarterback in Heath Shuler to replace Andy Kelly and lots of other talent needing to be replaced, expectations were low. But the Vols got off to a red-hot start, upsetting the Florida Gators and Georgia Bulldogs in back to back weeks to get to 3-0. They got to 5-0 after Majors returned and into the top five. Then the upsets happened.
Their first loss was to Arkansas. This team was 1-4, and its only win was to the South Carolina team we’re about to mention. But the Hogs cashed in on an ugly day at Neyland, and after scoring a touchdown and failing on the two-point play, they recovered an onside kick and made the game-winning field goal.
Two games after that heartbreak and a fall to 5-2 in an understandable loss to Alabama, that same South Carolina team came in. And they also shocked the Vols, building a 24-17 lead late. An epic Mose Phillips touchdown run brought it to 24-23, but UT needed a two-point conversion to avoid a tie and stay in first place. They failed on the play.
As a result, UT had gone from 5-0 to 5-3, and they suffered two horrific upset losses. S.C. would finish the year 5-6, but Arkansas would finish 3-7-1. That was embarrassing and Majors was canned as a result. He won his final three games to get back to 8-3, and then Fulmer replaced him for good.
In the Hall of Fame Bowl, Tennessee football dominated the Boston College Eagles to win 38-23. So despite two upset losses, they still had nine wins, a top 15 finish, a bowl win and victories over Florida and Georgia. The transition of Majors to Fulmer is what everybody remembers about this season, though.