By David Bradford for VFL Insider
Another season, another challenging schedule for Tennessee. Luckily, the Vols play a handful of marquee opponents at home, a considerable benefit considering the team’s quarterback situation.
Here’s each Tennessee game ranked, in order of importance.
No. 12) Indiana State
Maybe if Indiana State fielded 11 Larry Birds on offense and defense, then the Sycamores would have a fighting chance. As it stands, this is a game for Butch to experiment with both quarterbacks and rest starters before a pivotal game against Florida.
No. 11) UMass
UMass almost beat South Carolina last season, but similar to the Indiana State game, this should be a situation where the Vols rest starters after taking an early lead.
No. 10) Southern Miss
Now we get to the nitty gritty. Southern Miss isn’t a Boise State-esque team that takes down giants, but the Vols shouldn’t sleep on the Golden Eagles. Needless to say, should Tennessee drop this game, all hell will break loose.
No. 9) Alabama
Although Alabama is an arch nemesis of Tennessee’s, the Vols have little-to-no chance of beating the Crimson Tide, especially in Tuscaloosa with Sith Saban on a revenge tour. Most expect this to be a loss, and that’s exactly what’s going to happen.
No. 8) Missouri
The Tigers are a virtual lock to finish 6th or 7th in the SEC East standings. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be a pushover – this game is in Columbia and Mizzou gave the Vols trouble at home last season. Should Tennessee fall to the Tigers, its SEC East chances will fall with it.
No. 7) Vanderbilt
No loss stung worse than the loss to Vandy last season. Tennessee fired on all cylinders in the first half, only to execute a second-half dud and lose, 45-34. The Vols get the Commodores at home this time around late in the season. By then, whoever Tennessee’s quarterback is will be experienced enough to get the job done.
No. 6) Kentucky
After steady growth in the Mark Stoops era, Kentucky finally has something to be excited about other than basketball. The Wildcats are widely considered a Dark Horse SEC East contender, and some believe they’ll finish ahead of Tennessee in the SEC East. That won’t happen, but this game — played at home — remains significant because Kentucky — along with South Carolina, Missouri, and Vanderbilt — are necessary victories for an SEC East crown.
No. 5) LSU
Butch Jones is 0-8 against SEC West teams. It’ll be 0-9 after Alabama, but with Ed Orgeron at the helm in Baton Rouge, this becomes a very winnable game for Tennessee, especially because the Tigers are traveling to Neyland. But if Tennessee’s run defense replicates last season’s performance, then Derrius Guice might rush for 500 yards.
No. 4) Georgia Tech
Tennessee opens the season against Georgia Tech and its pre-historic triple-option offense. Had this game been scheduled to be played mid-season, the Vols defense would be better prepared for the Yellow Jackets, but as the season opener, Georgia Tech could catch an inexperienced front seven off guard.
No. 3) South Carolina
“Tennessee lost to South Carolina after a bye week.” Now that it’s out of your system, Tennessee hosts South Carolina this season, and there’s arguably no opponent the Vols want to beat more. The Gamecocks return most of their defensive starters, meaning that Dormady (or Guarantano) will likely struggle, similar to how Josh Dobbs struggled last season and had the worst game of his career. Luckily for the Vols, South Carolina’s offense won’t be confused for the Chip Kelly Oregon Ducks, so the game should remain close throughout.
No. 2) Georgia
The 2017 Georgia Bulldogs are the 2016 Tennessee Vols. The team expected to win the division. The team with the most talent… and also the team that wants to beat Tennessee more than any other given how the last two meetings have played out. When vying for the SEC East crown, how you perform against Georgia says a lot about your chances.
No. 1) Florida
This comes as no surprise, as the Florida game is always significant. However, if the Vols were to lose to Georgia Tech and lose to Florida in embarrassing fashion, dropping Tennessee to 1-2, then the season could spiral out of control, thus pitting the fan base against him to an even higher degree. With a super agent in his back corner, and Butch constantly complaining about the negativity surrounding the program, he might look for an escape route.