3 Past Seasons the Vols Would’ve Made the CFP

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    (Photo via 1970 Sugar Bowl media guide/Tennessee Athletics)

    Record: 11-1
    Final AP ranking: No. 4
    Bowl: Sugar vs. No. 11 Air Force

    In an unprecedented move, former Tennessee head coach Doug Dickey bolted for his Alma Mater at Florida after six seasons as the Vols head coach in 1969.

    Despite the contention around Knoxville for Dickey’s decision to leave a storied program like Tennessee for a conference rival that at the time had never won an SEC title, Dickey had a successful tenure.

    Dickey went 46-15-4 as head coach, brought in revered traditions such as the opening of the ‘T’ by the Pride of the Southland, the checkerboard endzones, and the “Power T” on the helmets. Dickey won a pair of SEC titles as head coach, and in 1967 he guided the Vols to their fifth national championship.

    After Dickey left the program after helping UT win a conference title in 1969, he was replaced by his young assistant coach, Bill Battle.

    At 28-years-old, Battle seemed like an unlikely candidate to take over a Tennessee program that had long solidified its place among college football’s elite, but it didn’t take long for him to prove his worth.

    In Battle’s first season, the Vols won 11 games, beating No. 13 Georgia Tech, Alabama, and UCLA. Their lone loss came in a 36-23 decision against Auburn at Legion Field in the second game of the season.

    Although Tennessee had a better overall record, the one loss to Auburn was one more conference loss than LSU had, and the Tigers claimed the SEC title that season.

    Still, the Vols ended up in the Sugar Bowl and beat No. 11 Air Force handily, 34-13. That season, Tennessee set the record for most turnovers forced in a regular season with 57 — a record that UT still holds to this day.

    At No. 4 overall in the final regular season AP Poll, Tennessee would have likely made the modern College Football Playoff format, joining No. 1 Texas, No. 2 Ohio State, and No. 3 Nebraska that season.

    The Vols and the unbeaten Longhorns would have faced off for a shot at the national championship game to face the winner of Ohio State and Nebraska. In reality, Nebraska finished No. 1 in the final AP rankings after thumping No. 5 LSU in the Orange Bowl, and Texas lost to Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl.

    Even hypothetically, it’s hard to say if Tennessee would have beaten that Texas team head-to-head. Both teams shared one common opponent that season in UCLA, and in both games, Tennessee and Texas won at home by similar scores.

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