Winners of nearly 70 percent of the games they’ve played in their 123-year gridiron history, plus 16 conference championships, six national championships and 25 bowl games, the Volunteers of Tennessee have long been one of the storied programs in college football.
It wasn’t always that way, and for the first 35 years the Vols muddled along in the middle of the pack, never a doormat but seldom a champion. And then came Bob Neyland.
Right from the start, the “General” made his mark, and from 1926 through 1932 the Orange and White compiled a phenomenal record of 61 wins, 2 losses and 5 ties, quickly becoming a dominant force in the Southern Conference. Then after a brief five-year lull where they won “only” two thirds of their games, in 1938 the Vols put together one of the great seasons in college football history.
After beginning with 26-3 and 20-7 wins over in-state rival Sewanee and perennial power Clemson, the Vols merely ran out the remaining eight regular season games while only allowing but one touchdown. You read that right. 229 points to 6. Amazingly enough, this was only good enough for a No. 2 ranking in the final AP poll, so when they drew unbeaten and # 4 ranked Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl, the Vols were on a mission.
What followed was one of the great days in Volunteer history. Outgaining the Sooners by over 3 to 1 before a screaming overflow crowd, the Tennesseeans methodically scored a touchdown in the first quarter, added a field goal before the half, and then iced the game with a fourth quarter touchdown after turning back the only Oklahoma threat of the afternoon.
Taking it from there, the Vols swept through their entire 1939 regular season schedule without giving up a single point, and extended their shutout streak into the first three games of 1940. Their cumulative three-year record of 17 straight regular season shutouts remains to this day the all-time record in Divison I gridiron history.
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