NEYLAND'S TENNESSEE SCHEDULES
In recent years college football followers have pointed to Nebraska's choice of non-league opponents and questioned why the Cornhuskers would schedule such schools as Akron, Pacific, North Texas, Middle Tennessee, Northern Illinois, UNLV, Louisiana Tech and UAB. Of course this practice of scheduling cream puffs and cupcakes has a long tradition in college football. When The Sporting News took a poll in 1969 (September 13th issue) to rate the best coaches of history, Bob Neyland placed second. His all-time winning percentage of .829 and record of 173-31-12 would seem to qualify him for high ranking, as would his record against arch-rival Alabama. Neyland went 12-5-2 overall against the Tide, 2-1-0 vs. Wallace Wade, 6-3-1 against Frank Thomas, and 4-1-1 vs. Red Drew. But of his career 173 victories, 53 came against these teams:
Carson-Newman, 6 wins; Centre, 5 wins; Chattanooga, 13 wins; The Citadel, 2 wins; George Washington, 1 win; Maryville, 7 wins; Mercer, 2 wins; Sewanee, 6 wins; Southwestern Tennessee, 1 win; Tennessee Tech, 5 wins; Transylvania, 1 win; Washington & Lee, 3 wins; and Wofford, 1 win.
Nine times Neyland scheduled Chattanooga immediately before the Alabama game and seven times he sandwiched the Alabama contest between Chattanooga (just before) and Mercer, Tennessee Tech, Washington & Lee or Wofford immediately after.
Tennessee was unbeaten in 1927-28-29 but in each of those years the Vols played at least four teams from this cupcake list. When Tennessee had their unscored-on regular season in 1939 (before the Rose Bowl) four of their opponents were Sewanee, Chattanooga, Mercer and The Citadel. And of course the Vols traditionally schedule Vanderbilt and Kentucky, two more schools with very little football success while Neyland was coaching, and not a lot since he left. (Neyland never lost to Kentucky.)
Could these cream puff schedules have contributed to the result of the final 1938-39-40 AP college football polls? When those who have developed their own math formula ratings apply their systems to the 1938 season, they always (or almost always) find Tennessee placing first. But the voters of 1938, who obviously really were there at the time, and not ranking teams retroactively, selected TCU as the 1938 national champion. And in terms of first place votes, the ratio was three-and-one-half to one for the Frogs over the Vols. TCU received 55 first place votes to 16 for Tennessee! In that era, when the AP took their final poll before the bowl games, Tennessee could have been voted first in each of their perfect record (regular season) years of 1938, 1939 and 1940, but never were elevated to the top spot by the AP voters. In 1940 the Vols were 4th, ranked below 7-1-0 Michigan. Were these voters trying to get the message to Tennessee that they did not respect those weak schedules?