The Top 10 on our list includes games from seven different decades, a testament to Tennessee's enduring place in college football history. It includes six wins over top five teams and victories over some of the most prestigious programs in college football, who join the Vols as some of the most successful teams in January.
As always, we invite your memories of these games in the comment section below. Thanks for reading and we hope you had a Merry Christmas!
10. 1943 Sugar Bowl: #7 Tennessee 14 #4 Tulsa 7
Tennessee held Tulsa to 129 yards of offense and picked up 296 of their own, bouncing back from an early Tulsa score to get the game's final 14 points and earn Tennessee's second ever bowl victory, its first Sugar Bowl victory, and its second bowl victory over a top five team.
9. 1971 Sugar Bowl: #4 Tennessee 34 #11 Air Force 13
Bill Battle's first squad was his best, capping off an 11-1 season by throttling Air Force in the Sugar Bowl, Tennessee's first bowl victory since 1966. The Falcons turned the ball over an unbelievable eight times, allowing Tennessee to build a 24-0 lead in the first quarter. Tennessee out-gained Air Force 392-227 and rolled to an easy win in New Orleans; the '70 Vols became the first team since 1950 to win 11 games, joining the '38, '50, '89, '95, '97, '98, and '01 teams as the only ones in school history to earn that distinction.
8. 1990 Cotton Bowl: #8 Tennessee 31 #10 Arkansas 27
The 1989 Vols rebounded from a 5-6 '88 campaign to rip through the regular season. They were led early in the year by the vaunted CobbWebb Attack before Reggie Cobb was dismissed from the team, turning the show over to true freshman Chuck Webb. Tennessee won 24-6 at #6 UCLA in the season's second game, then three weeks later beat #4 Auburn in a Knoxville downpour. The Vols lost at Alabama, setting up a three-way tie for the SEC Championship. Tennessee went to Dallas to face pre-SEC Arkansas in an offensive explosion: Tennessee went for 470 yards, including an 84 yard touchdown from Andy Kelly to Anthony Morgan and a 78 yard touchdown run by Chuck Webb. Webb would finish with an astounding 250 yards on just 26 carries, the second best rushing performance in school history behind his own record 297 yards against Ole Miss in November. Webb's run put the Vols up 31-13, but Arkansas rallied behind 568 yards of their own with two fourth quarter touchdowns before the Vols recovered the onside kick to record their eleventh win.
7. 2002 Citrus Bowl: #8 Tennessee 45 #17 Michigan 17
It wasn't the BCS Championship Game the Vols thought they'd be in, but there was no better consolation prize: Tennessee gave Michigan a thorough and memorable beating, easing some of the pain from the 1997 Heisman Trophy debacle. Tennessee raced to a 17-0 lead on what is statistically Casey Clausen's finest day: 26 of 34 for 393 yards, one of the best passing performances in school history. Donte Stallworth had eight catches for 119 yards, and when Michigan pulled to within 24-10 at halftime, the Vols opened the second half with the game's most memorable play: Clausen hit tight end Jason Witten, and Witten outran the Michigan secondary for 64 yards and a touchdown. Early in the fourth quarter Clausen hit Kelley Washington for another touchdown, this one from 37 yards out, and Travis Stephens added a touchdown to make it 45-10 Vols before Michigan added a garbage time touchdown. Tennessee held the Wolverines to 240 yards and the 2001 Vols closed their season with an emphatic win.
6. 1991 Sugar Bowl: #10 Tennessee 23 Virginia 22
Don't be fooled by Virginia's lack of ranking: the Cavs were ranked #1 in mid-October before quarterback Shawn Moore went down with injury. Moore returned for this one to face the 1990 SEC Champion Vols, 8-2-2 after facing one of the most difficult schedules in history by playing #5 Colorado and #1 Notre Dame in the non-conference. The Vols tied #3 Auburn, slaughtered Steve Spurrier's #9 Gators 45-3 and put away #15 Ole Miss to win the league outright and head back to New Orleans. But Virginia dominated the first half with a 16-0 lead at the break, and was in the red zone up 16-3 in the third quarter. Tennessee intercepted Moore at the six yard line, setting up an incredible finish: Andy Kelly led three consecutive touchdown drives while Virginia kicked field goals in between. The final drive went 79 yards in 2:31, with Kelly going 7 of 9 for 64 yards. Tony Thompson cashed in for the one yard line, and one of the great fourth quarters in Tennessee Football history and one of its most impressive seasons was complete.
5. 1996 Citrus Bowl: #4 Tennessee 20 #4 Ohio State 14
Against what I believe is the most talented team the Vols have ever faced and in the midst of a torrential downpour, the 1995 Vols earned their eleventh win and ultimately a #2 finish in the coaches' poll by beating Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George and Ohio State. The Buckeyes were 10-0 and ranked first before Michigan took them out of the championship chase. Ohio State led 7-0 and was looking for more before Bill Duff stopped them on 4th and 1 at the three yard line. Still bogged down late in the first half, Jay Graham broke loose for 69 yards to tie the game. On the day George would get 101 yards, but Graham would go for 154 and earn MVP honors. Sophomore Peyton Manning connected with Joey Kent for a 47 yard touchdown to put the Vols in front early in the third quarter, and when the Buckeyes tied the score Tennessee put things in the hands of their defense and kicker Jeff Hall. While Hall booted home two fourth quarter field goals, the Vol defense forced turnovers on three of Ohio State's final four drives to secure the victory.
4. 1951 Cotton Bowl: #4 Tennessee 20 #3 Texas 14
The 1950 Vols were 10-1 and earned a National Championship vote from Dunkel. Against the third ranked Longhorns in Dallas Tennessee struck first on a drive that included a 75 yard run by Hank Lauricella. Texas took the lead 14-7 at halftime, but Tennessee took control of the game in the fourth quarter. Andy Kozar scored from five yards out but the Vols missed the extra point. Tennessee fumbled its next chance away, but got the ball right back on the very next play in recovering a Texas fumble. From there the Vols drove down and Kozar again found paydirt, giving the Vols the victory and their eleventh win of the season.
3. 1939 Orange Bowl: #2 Tennessee 17 #4 Oklahoma 0
Tennessee's very first bowl appearance was an old school beatdown, as the undefeated Vols (with five National Championship honors from various polls) took down an Oklahoma squad which had won 14 games in a row. Tennessee out-gained Oklahoma 260-94; the bowl media guide points out this game was salty, with the Vols earning 16 penalties for 130 yards and Oklahoma getting nine penalties for 90 yards. But the Vols, led by George Cafego, led 10-0 at halftime and punched in the dagger in the fourth quarter for a 17-0 victory, the program's first bowl win, and its first National Championship distinction.
2. 1986 Sugar Bowl: #8 Tennessee 35 #2 Miami 7
Although the game at number one needs no defense because of what was at stake, those slightly older than me may certainly argue for this game being at the top of the list. I was four years old when Tennessee went down to New Orleans heavy underdogs against The U and came away with a 35-7 win, including the game's final 35 points after spotting the Canes a 7-0 lead. Tennessee's defense scored seven sacks on Vinnie Testaverde and forced an unbelievable six Miami turnovers, completing a miraculous 1985 season with an exclamation point and a #4 AP finish. The Vols took a 14-7 lead late in the first half, then exploded in the third quarter with a fumble recovery, touchdown, forced punt, and then a 60 yard touchdown run by Jeff Powell. The pleasant surprise of both this night and the 1985 season make these Sugar Vols among the most memorable in school history.
1. 1999 Fiesta Bowl: #1 Tennessee 23 #2 Florida State 16
The first ever BCS Championship Game featured the undefeated Vols, who finally beat Florida en route to a second straight SEC title, and the vaunted Florida State Seminoles. Playing without quarterback Chris Weinke, Florida State was held to 253 yards by the '98 Vol defense, one of the best in school history. Tennessee looked to break the game wide open in the second quarter when Dwayne Goodrich raced an interception back 54 yards for a score, but Florida State's defense was able to keep the Vols in check from there until midway through the fourth quarter. Leading 14-9, Tee Martin tested Florida State down the sideline to Peerless Price, who hauled in a third down bomb for a 79 yard touchdown on the game's most important play. Price had four catches for 199 yards, an unbelievable average, and the Vols held off the Seminoles from there for a 23-16 victory and the program's first National Championship since 1967 and its first consensus title since 1951.