Tennessee Vols Football: 25 Best Bowl Games in School History
Tennessee has a long and storied history in bowl games. The Vols 25 bowl wins ties them for sixth on the all-time list with the Texas Longhorns. Tennessee is also tied with Texas in bowl appearances with 49.
Out of those 49 bowl appearances, there have been some humdingers. Whether it was a win or a loss, there has been no shortage of postseason drama where the Vols are concerned.
Narrowing the list down to the top 25 bowl games in Tennessee history might have been difficult, but spending hours on old game footage and looking through old press clippings, as well as, recalling some of the more vivid memories of a big orange childhood was definitely fun.
Here's the top 25 bowl games in Tennessee Vols history.
No. 25 | 1986 Liberty Bowl | Tennessee vs. Minnesota
Tennessee began the 1986 season winning just two of their first seven games. Led by quarterback Jeff Francis, the Vols went on to win four games in a row to make the Liberty Bowl with a 6-5 record.
Francis led the Vols on a 66-yard touchdown drive to take the lead for good with 11 minutes remaining in the game.
UT won 21-14.
No. 24 | 2005 Cotton Bowl | Tennessee vs. Texas A&M
After the young Vols won the east and proceeded to lose by 10 in the SEC Championship Game to undefeated Auburn, Tennessee accepted a bid to play in the Cotton Bowl.
The Vols led 28-0 at half and 38-0 heading into the fourth quarter. Tennessee rode that win to a 10-3 record and a No. 15 final ranking for the '04 season.
Final score: UT 38-10
No. 23 | 1974 Liberty Bowl | Tennessee vs. Maryland
Tennessee pulled off the upset of No. 10 Maryland in the '74 Liberty Bowl. The game was marred by the death of Bill Battle's father, who died of a heart attack in the stands during the game. The coach and team did not find out about his death until after the game.
Tennessee won the game 7-3.
No. 22 | 2008 Outback Bowl | Tennessee vs. Wisconsin
Phillip Fulmer's final bowl game as Tennessee head coach was a win over the Wisconsin Badgers. The Badgers had a shot at the win near the end, but Antonio Wardlaw intercepted Tyler Donavan's final pass at the Tennessee one-yard line with 30 seconds remaining to seal the Vols win.
Final score: UT 21-17
No. 21 | 1939 Orange Bowl | Tennessee vs. Oklahoma
The '38 Vols gave up only 16 points all season long heading into the Orange Bowl. One of Gen. Neyland's best teams would not disappoint in the bowl versus Oklahoma either.
Tennessee was declared the 1938 national champions by a number of publications prior to the bowl game, but the Vols 17-0 win over the Sooners did not factor into AP voters deliberations to rank the Vols higher than No. 2 in the country because the final vote was held before the bowl game.
Final: UT 17-0
No. 20 | 1993 Hall of Fame Bowl | Tennessee vs. Boston College
Phillip Fulmer's first bowl game as the head coach of the Vols. Fulmer had taken over the team from Johnny Majors following the final game of the 1993 season.
Fulmer and quarterback Heath Shuler led the No. 17 Vols over No. 16 Boston College. Tennessee led 31-7 following the third quarter and held on for the 38-23 win.
No. 19 | 2002 Citrus Bowl | Tennessee vs. Michigan
After being upset by LSU in the 2001 SEC Championship Game, the Vols took out their frustrations on the Michigan Wolverines in the Citrus Bowl.
A win over LSU in the title game would have sent the Vols to Pasadena to play Miami for a national championship. But the Vols were forced to settle for a 45-17 blowout of the Wolverines instead.
Final: UT 45-17
No. 18 | 1981 Garden State Bowl | Tennessee vs. Wisconsin
The final installment of the short-lived Garden State Bowl featured Tennessee against Wisconsin. The Badgers led for only 11 seconds midway through the first quarter when, after Wisconsin's first touchdown, UT's Willie Gault scored on the ensuing kickoff.
Final: Vols 28-21
No. 17 | 1997 Citrus Bowl | Tennessee vs. Northwestern
After a bitterly disappointing regular season, in which the Vols lost to Florida, again, and later to Memphis; Tennessee faced the 9-3 Wildcats in the Citrus Bowl.
Tennessee led 21-0 at the end of the first quarter. Northwestern came roaring back to tie the game in the second quarter, but Tennessee tacked on 10 more points before half to lead 31-21 at halftime. The Vols won by 20 on the strength of Peyton Manning's 408 yards and four touchdowns.
No. 16 | 1952 Sugar Bowl | Tennessee vs. Maryland
The Vols had already been crowned as national champions after their undefeated regular season in 1951. On this day, Maryland completely stifled the Vols efforts on the ground as they held Tennessee to just 81 rushing yards.
Maryland didn't have much trouble with the Vols, leading 21-0 before Tennessee even got on the board. Gen. Robert Neyland was reportedly so distraught following the game that he didn't even meet with the press.
Final: Maryland 28-13
No. 15 | 1971 Liberty Bowl | Tennessee vs. Arkansas
Tennessee and Arkansas played a tight one in Memphis following the 1971 season. Arkansas led 13-7 with around six minutes remaining and had a chance to put the game away with a field goal late in the fourth quarter.
The Arkansas kicker, Bill McClard made the 48-yard try, but a holding penalty was called, which forced the Razorbacks to punt. Tennessee fullback Curt Watson scored on a 17-yard run with just under two minutes left, and the Vols kicker won it with the extra point.
Final: UT 14-13
No. 14 | 1994 Gator Bowl | Tennessee vs. Virginia Tech
Peyton Manning's first bowl game was really never in doubt. The Vols led 35-10 at halftime and held on for the 45-23 victory over the Hokies. Manning had 189 yards and one touchdown on the evening, but it was Tennessee's run game, led by James "Little Man" Stewart that led the way for the Vols.
Tennessee rushers ran for 245 yards, and Stewart scored three touchdowns for the Vols in the rout.
Final: UT 45-23
No. 13 | 1983 Florida Citrus Bowl | Tennessee vs. Maryland
Behind Johnnie Jones's 154 yards and two touchdowns, the Vols defeated Maryland in a close Citrus Bowl matchup.
The Terrapins actually led the game 20-16 going into the fourth quarter, but the Vols scored twice in the final frame to defeat Maryland, 30-23.
Final: UT 30-23
No. 12 | 1972 Bluebonnet Bowl | Tennessee vs. LSU
Led by all-time great quarterback Condredge Holloway, the Vols jumped out to a 24-3 halftime lead with Holloway accounting for all three touchdowns (two rushing, one passing).
Tennessee didn't score in the second half, but held on for the 24-17 victory over the Tigers.
Final: UT 24-17
No. 11 | 1940 Rose Bowl | Tennessee vs. USC
The 1939 Vols were undefeated and unscored upon during the regular season. Think about that for a minute. The Vols outscored 10 opponents that season 212-0.
The SEC Champions played USC in the Rose Bowl, where the Vols got a dose of their own medicine at the hands of the Trojans.
USC held Tennessee scoreless and won the game 14-0.
Final: USC 14-0
No. 10 | 1988 Peach Bowl | Tennessee vs. Indiana
Tennessee won nine games in 1987 on their way to a third-place SEC finish and a berth in the 1988 Peach Bowl in Atlanta.
Tennessee led the game 21-3 in the second quarter, but a furious Indiana comeback gave the Hoosiers the 22-21 lead in the fourth quarter.
Tennessee running back Reggie Cobb scored his second touchdown of the day a few moments later to go up 27-22. The Vols held on for the win.
Final: UT 27-22
No. 9 | 1990 Cotton Bowl | Tennessee vs. Arkansas
The Vols finished the 1989 season tied for the first in the SEC. Tennessee ended up in Dallas to play Arkansas of the Southwest conference. The two teams would combine for 1,038 yards worth of offense in this one.
Tennessee freshman running back Chuck Webb ran for 250 yards, and quarterback Andy Kelly threw for an additional 150 for the Vols.
Tennessee led 31-13 going into the fourth quarter, but even though the Vols gave Arkansas more than their fair share of chances in the fourth quarter, they held on for the win.
Final: Tennessee 31-27
No. 8 | 1996 Citrus Bowl | Tennessee vs. Ohio State
Heisman winner Eddie George came into this matchup with all the hype. But it was Tennessee's own running back Jay Graham who was the star on this day. Graham ended up with 154 yards against the Buckeyes.
Both teams came into this game at 10-1, having each lost to bitter rivals Florida (UT) and Michigan (Ohio State). The teams were tied for No. 4 in the nation.
The most memorable play was Tennessee defensive lineman stopping George on a fourth down from the UT 2-yard line.
The game was tied 14-all in the fourth quarter, but Tennessee tacked on two field goals and held on for the win. Tennessee wound up with a No. 3 ranking and an 11-1 record.
Final: Vols 20-14.
No. 7 | 1966 Gator Bowl | Tennessee vs. Syracuse
Much like Duff stopping George in '96, Tennessee linebacker Paul Naumoff did almost the same exact thing to Larry Csonka 30 years earlier in the Gator Bowl. Except Naumoff's stop was even more impressive as he took the highly-touted fullback Csonka and literally drove him backward away from the goal line.
Syracuse did eventually score, but Tennessee held on for the victory against the Orangemen.
Final: Tennessee 18-12
No. 6 | 1971 Sugar Bowl | Tennessee vs. Air Force
Tennessee scored four times in four possessions to jump out to a 24-0 lead over Air Force in the first quarter of the '71 Sugar Bowl. Quarterback Bobby Scott ended up with 288 yards passing in the 34-13 rout.
As bad as the blowout was, it could have been much worse. The Vols missed three field goals and turned the ball over three more times inside the Air Force 25-yard line.
Final: UT 34-13
No. 5 | 1968 Orange Bowl | Tennessee vs. Oklahoma
After finishing the 1967 season with a 10-1 record, one publication named the Vols as its national champion. Tennessee was ranked No. 2 in the AP Poll heading into the Orange Bowl against No. 3 Oklahoma.
The Sooners led the game 19-0 at halftime, but the Vols, led by "The Swamp Rat" Dewey Warren did not lay down in the second half. The Vols brought it to within 19-17 before Oklahoma scored again to go up by nine.
Warren led the Vols on a 77-yard touchdown drive to bring the score to 26-24. The Vols got the ball back and was driving for a game-winning field goal try. Tennessee got the opportunity to try and win it from 43 yards out.
Vols kicker, Karl Kremser's kick was no good, and the Sooners won the game.
Final: Oklahoma 26-24
No. 4 | 1991 Sugar Bowl | Tennessee vs. Virginia
Tennessee quarterback Andy Kelly would learn a thing or two about comebacks on this day. The Vols trailed the Cavaliers 16-3 going into the fourth quarter.
If any team was capable of pulling out a comeback it was the 1990 SEC Champion Vols team. Tennessee pulled to within six, before Virginia scored on a field goal to go up nine. Tennessee scored another touchdown to bring it to 19-17.
The Cavaliers scored another field goal to make it 22-17 with just a little over two minutes remaining. About two minutes later, Vols running back Tony Thompson crossed the goal line for the go-ahead touchdown with 31 seconds left on the clock.
Final: UT 23-22
No. 3 | 1951 Cotton Bowl | Tennessee vs. Texas
Tennessee's 1950 squad had outscored opponents 335-71 coming into the Cotton Bowl. They were already proclaimed as National Champions by one publication, but the No. 4 Vols came into this one as the lower ranked team against No. 3 Texas.
The Longhorns led 14-7 at halftime. Tennessee scored a touchdown with around 10 minutes to play in the fourth quarter but missed the extra point. A few plays later, however, Texas fumbled the ball away, and Tennessee took over on the Longhorns 43 yard line.
Andy Kozar scored the gamewinner five plays later, and the Vols defeated Texas in the Cotton Bowl.
Final: UT 20-14
No. 2 | 1986 Sugar Bowl | Tennessee vs. Miami
Sure, the Vols were SEC Champions in 1985, but eighth-ranked Tennessee was not supposed to be able to play with the mighty No. 2 Miami Hurricanes and future Heisman winner Vinny Testaverde.
When Testaverde hit wide receiver Michael Irvin to go up 7-0 shortly after a Miami fake punt went for 25 yards and a first down, more than a few Tennessee fans figured the rout was going to be on soon.
However, someone forgot to tell the Vols that the script didn't call for a Tennessee win. The Vols scored two touchdown before half to lead 14-7. Tennessee poured it on in the third quarter, scoring two more touchdowns, while the Vols defense stymied the 'Canes vaunted passing attack.
Tennessee won in a rout 35-7. The Sugar Vols, as they became lovingly known, were the biggest underdog to win a Sugar Bowl.
No. 1 | 1999 Fiest Bowl, BCS National Championship | Tennessee vs. Florida State
Destiny! There's no other word for the 1998 Tennessee Vols. After needing a pass interference call to set up a last-second, game-winning field goal attempt at Syracuse in Game 1, a missed Florida kick in overtime in Game 3, and a miraculous Clint Stoerner fumble against Arkansas in Week 9 to stay undefeated, nothing was going to deny these Vols.
Led by an incredibly stout defense, Tennessee would finish the regular season 11-0 and go on to play in the 1998 SEC Championship Game. The Vols defeated Mississippi State in Atlanta and was paired with Florida State in the first ever BCS National Championship Game, which was hosted in the Fiesta Bowl on January 4, 1999.
Tennessee went up 14-0 on a Dwayne Goodrich 54-interception return for touchdown in the second quarter, but the Seminoles would inch back into the game on the leg of kick Sebastian Janikowski.
After a scoreless third quarter, Tee Martin hit Peerless Price on a 79-yard touchdown pass down the sideline for a 20-9 lead with 9:17 remaining in the game.
Jeff Hall would tack on a Tennessee field goal to go up 23-9 with six minutes remaining. FSU scored a touchdown with 3:42 remaining and recovered the onside kick, but it was determined that the ball did not go the requisite 10 yards before the 'Noles touched it, and it was Tennessee ball.
The Vols got a big first down on a 4th-and-one and was seemingly ready to run the clock with a little over a minute left, but Travis Henry fumbled the ball deep in Florida State territory. FSU quarterback Marcus Outzen threw an interception on the first play after the turnover, and the Vols salted away the clock to finish the season 13-0 and win the 1998 national championship.