10. 1939: 10-1 (6-0)
SEC Champion; No. 2 AP; Rose Bowl
While 1940 was part of the peak of Robert Neyland with Tennessee football and the Golden Age of the program in general, 1939 was the watershed moment of the peak of Neyland’s career. Ironically, it’s the one year of the Golden Age in which the Vols couldn’t lay claim to any national championship. No service awarded it to them.
UT was on the heels of its second perfect season in school history, its first SEC Championship in school history and its first bowl appearance, which it won. They were also on a 13-game winning streak and a five-game shutout streak. That last one is important.
Bob Foxx, Bob Suffridge and Ed Molinski were on this team too, but so were Abe Shires and one of the Vols’ greatest early offensive weapons, George Cafego. Expectations were high from the jump, and after being No. 5 in the inaugural AP Poll, they jumped to No. 1 by beating No. 8 Alabama on the road 21-0.
A win at No. 18 LSU got them to 6-0. Then they blew out The Citadel. However, they only beat the Vanderbilt Commodores 13-0, which dropped them to No. 4, and a 19-0 win at Kentucky only got them back to No. 2, where they stayed in every poll, even after closing things out with a 7-0 win at Auburn, so there was no national title.
Still, the story of this team is that it shut out everybody on the schedule. The 1939 Vols remain the last team to go undefeated, untied and unscored on in the regular season. They did lose the Rose Bowl 14-0 to the USC Trojans, to be fair, but it was due to Cafego didn’t hurt. Before that loss, they had a 15-game shutout streak and 23-game winning streak.