4. at UCLA 1989
Ten years after Johnny Majors led his gritty Vols to a home win over Notre Dame, he scored another significant upset over a national power when the Vols traveled to the Rose Bowl and outclassed the No. 6 UCLA Bruins 24-6. It was the start of the season that would (temporarily) save Majors’ job. One that came on the heels of the dismal 5-6 showing the year before. The Vols would lose just one game in 89, finishing in a three-way tie for the SEC title before beating Lou Holtz and the Arkansas Razorbacks 31-27 in the Cotton Bowl.
That team was loaded with memorable Vols on both sides of the ball. Sterling Hinton, Shazzon Bradley (personal fave), Darryl Hardy, Marion Hobby, Tracy Hayworth, Roland Poles, Charles McRae, Atone Davis, Reggie Cobb, Chuck Webb and Alvin Harper. No wonder they finished ranked No. 5 in the land at 11-1.
An argument can be made that the 1989 top-5 finish is what got the momentum going for the glory days of the 90s. And an argument can also be made that this win begot the momentum that led to that top 5 finish. Which is why the Vols’ first ever win in the Rose Bowl ranks so high on the list.