Is this really the worst Tennessee team in history?

Looking at how Kentucky played this week and how Vanderbilt played earlier in the year, it's certainly possible for this year's Tennessee team to lose one or both of its remaining games. If Tennessee lost either of those games, that would make this Tennessee team the first in history to lose eight games. Would that make it the worst Vol team ever though? Let's go through some other squads' records and try to make sense of them.

I know this might be painful for those of you still saddened personally for how Coach Fulmer's final season has gone down. I am also sad, and am coping by burying my head in numbers. My rationale is if I can make this season feel like a statistic, then maybe it won't feel so much like watching a relative die.

The contenders

The last time Tennessee lost seven games was 1977 — Johnny Majors' first year as Vols head coach. Never prior to 1977 had the Tennessee Volunteers lost seven games during any season. But that doesn't automatically make 1977 the worst team, as college football schedules expanded several times between when Tennessee started playing and 1977.

The 4-6 1962 squad is also a contender for Worst Team Ever with no meaningful wins, and wins coming over three D-IA opponents with a combined record of 1-29. The other win was against 5-5-0 cupcake Tennessee-Chattanooga.

There were some really bad teams prior to 1910 and in 1924, but anything pre-Neyland doesn't really count to me.

There was a 4-6 season in 1954, but I'm not including it because the Vols did manage a win over a Mississippi State team that finished the season 6-4. That's better than this year.

There was also a 4-6 season in 1958, but I am not including it because the Vols beat an Alabama team with a winning record that year. A season with a win against Alabama cannot possibly be the worst no matter how poorly anything else went.

I'm also not going to include The Season of Which We Do Not Speak. In 2005, Tennessee went 5-6, and it's my opinion that 2008 is far worse than that season. The 2005 Vols at least beat an LSU team in Baton Rouge that ended the year with an 11-2 record, a top ten ranking, and which thumped Miami 40-3 in the Peach Bowl. So while some of the most painful memories come from that season, the 2005 Vols are not a contender.

That leaves us with 1962, 1977 and 2008 as contenders for Worst Team Ever.

The records

Wins are in green, losses in red.

1962 Tennessee Volunteers

9/29 Auburn (6-3-1) 21-22
10/6 Mississippi State (3-6) 6-7
10/13 Georgia Tech (7-3-1) 0-17
10/20 Alabama (10-1) 7-27
10/27 Tennessee-Chattanooga (5-5-0) 48-14
11/3 Wake Forest (0-10) 23-0
11/10 Tulane (0-10) 28-16
11/17 Mississippi (10-0) 6-19
11/24 Kentucky (3-5-2) 10-12
12/1 Vanderbilt (1-9) 30-0
Overall record: 4-6-0

1977 Tennessee Volunteers

9/10 California (7-4) 17-27
9/17 Boston College (6-5) 24-18
9/24 Auburn (5-6) 12-14
10/1 Oregon State (2-9) 41-10
10/8 Georgia Tech (6-5) 8-24
10/15 Alabama (11-1) 10-24
10/22 Florida (6-4-1) 17-27
11/5 Memphis (6-5) 27-14
11/12 Mississippi (5-6) 14-43
11/19 Kentucky (10-1) 17-21
11/16 Vanderbilt (2-9) 42-7
Overall record: 4-7-0

2008 Tennessee Volunteers (thus far)

9/1 UCLA (3-6) 24-27
9/13 UAB (2-7) 35-3
9/20 Florida (8-1) 6-30
9/27 Auburn (5-5) 12-14
10/4 Northern Illinois (5-4) 13-9
10/11 Georgia (8-2) 14-26
10/18 Mississippi State (3-6) 34-3
10/25 Alabama (10-0) 9-29
11/1 South Carolina (7-3) 6-27
11/8 Wyoming (4-6) 7-13
11/22 Vanderbilt
11/29 Kentucky
Overall record thus far: 3-7-0

The case for 1962

  • Combined records of the three IA teams Tennessee beat was 1-29
  • Lost to pitiful Mississippi State and Kentucky teams
  • Trounced by Alabama, shut out by Georgia Tech

The case against 1962

  • General Neyland died just before the start of this season, which obviously would be a distraction
  • Two SEC wins (Tulane was still an SEC team at the time)
  • Appeared to play undefeated national champion Ole Miss sort of close
  • Shut out two opponents

The case for 1977

  • Two wins came over teams that finished 2-9. The other two were against 6-5 teams
  • Only one SEC win
  • Lost to two SEC teams that finished the year with losing records, was trounced by one of them
  • Until 2008, the most losses in a season ever for a Tennessee team

The case against 1977

  • Was Johnny Majors' first season, and first seasons are rarely smooth
  • Kentucky had a 10-1 record, which is an aberration
  • More games played = more opportunities to lose

The case for 2008

  • Lost to pitiful UCLA and Wyoming teams.
  • So far has lost to division rivals Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina by a combined score of 83-26
  • Trounced by Alabama
  • Only SEC win is against a team with a losing record
  • Other wins are unimpressive and meaningless
  • Has already tied all-time record for most losses in a season by a Vols team with two games remaining to play

The case against 2008

  • Still an opportunity for two more SEC wins
  • Defense has not allowed more than 30 points in a game to anyone
  • More games played = more opportunities to lose


If the 2008 edition of Tennessee wins both of its remaining games, that will give it three SEC wins, which will be enough to save it from the dubious distinction of Worst Team Ever.

If the 2008 edition of Tennessee loses both of its remaining games, it will hold the title of Worst Team Ever all to itself.

If the Vols manage to split the last two games, then an argument can still be made that this is the Worst Team Ever, but it won't be head-and-shoulders above the 1962 team or 1977 team, and would require a deeper statistical analysis.

So, believe it or not, there is something left for Tennessee to play for.

Bonus: fun facts about the 1977 and 2008 Vols

  • Both lost to an out-of-conference opponent from the West Coast in the first game of the season
  • Both lost to Auburn 14-12
  • Both get Kentucky in the second season of a mini-resurgence which is a historic aberration
  • Both featured a Colquitt as punter (father Craig in 1977, son Britton in 2008)

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