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Tennessee Football: 5 Most Devastating Losses in Vols History

Tennessee Football: 5 Most Devastating Losses in Vols History

Tennessee Football: 5 Most Devastating Losses in Vols History

For Volunteers fans, Tennessee's 38-30 loss to Georgia State last weekend was embarrassing, but not devastating. While the program was regularly contending for national championships less than 20 years ago, fans' expectations have considerably lowered. Saturday's loss now means the Vols could go 6-6 or worse and not even make a bowl game. It's kind of like the 13-7 loss to Wyoming in 2008 the week head coach Phillip Fulmer was fired during a 5-7 season. It stinks, but things were already bad anyway.

To give those losses any more credit than that diminishes the years Tennessee truly had its season upended by a gut-punching upset. Here are the five losses that hit the hardest for fans.

5. Memphis 21, Tennessee 17

Nov. 9, 1996 (Memphis, Tenn.)

Peyton Manning and the sixth-ranked Vols rolled into Memphis unbeaten in the month of November since 1990. But Memphis held the Vols to less than two yards a carry and the Tigers put together an epic drive late in the game to pull ahead with 34 seconds left. If Tennessee had not lost to Florida earlier in the season, this upset would probably top this list.

4. Mississippi State 7, Tennessee 0

Sept. 30, 1950 (Starkville, Miss.)

Tennessee entered the season ranked fourth and faced a Mississippi State team that went 0-8-1 the year before in week two. What seemed to be stepping stone for No. 14 Duke the next week almost derailed the Vols' season. Mississippi State scored on its first drive and then held the Vols' vaunted single-wing attack to under 100 yards and no points. Tennessee won the remainder of its games and was named national champion by a number of ratings systems, but that loss cost the team the SEC title and AP national championship.

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3. Arkansas 25, Tennessee 24

Oct. 10, 1992 (Knoxville, Tenn.)

Head coach Johnny Majors underwent emergency heart surgery and Phillip Fulmer took over the interim duties and led the Vols to a 3-0 start with wins over Georgia and Florida. Majors returned, won two more games and the SEC East seemed like a lock with all eyes on the Alabama game. The Vols still had to play an Arkansas team in between that was 1-4 and had lost to The Citadel. But Tennessee entered the game unfocused and flat and allowed the visiting Razorbacks the opportunity to stick around. Late in the game, Arkansas' Orlando Watters returned a punt 71 yards for a touchdown and then recovered the ensuing onside kick, allowing Todd Wright to boot the game-winning field goal. The loss was the beginning of the end for Majors' tenure at Tennessee.

2. Ole Miss 38, Tennessee 0

Nov. 15, 1969 (Jackson, Miss.)

With a defense led by linebackers "Hacksaw" Jack Reynolds and Steve Kiner, Tennessee defeated all of its first seven opponents by at least two touchdowns before facing Ole Miss in Jackson. The Rebels were 5-3 and seemed likely to be the Vols' next victim, but head coach Johnny Vaught had motivational gold working for him. Early in the season, reporters asked Kiner if Ole Miss had the horses to make a run for the SEC title. Kiner responded by saying "Hee-haw, them's not horses, them's mules." To make matters worse, Tennessee fans taunted junior quarterback Archie Manning with buttons that read, "Archie Who?" Both quotes now live in infamy as Tennessee played terrible while Ole Miss took a 24-0 halftime lead and kept the pedal to the metal to hand the Vols their worst loss since a 51-7 beating by Vanderbilt in 1923. Today, the "Jackson Massacre" remains a sore subject with Tennessee fans.

1. LSU 31, Tennessee 20

Dec. 8, 2001 (Atlanta)

Tennessee's matchup with Florida was moved to Dec. 1 because of 9/11 and the Vols beat one of the best Gator teams of all time in The Swamp. Back at the victory celebration back in Knoxville, head coach Phillip Fulmer sniffed a rose in anticipation of his team's national championship showdown with Miami in the Rose Bowl. There was only one problem. Tennessee still had to face LSU and second-year head coach Nick Saban in the SEC Championship Game. You can imagine what happened next. LSU scored two fourth quarter touchdowns to end the Vols' national championship hopes and the program has never been the same since.

— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.

(Top photo courtesy of @GeorgiaStateFB)