Tennessee schedule analysis
Tennessee potentially can see upward of 18 returning starters pulling orange UT jerseys over shoulder pads on game days.
With experience comes memory, and for the upstart Volunteers, the 2015 season represents a legitimate chance to erase some painful ones — and in the process, reverse some miserable losing streaks to SEC rivals.
There are whispers that Butch Jones’ back-to-back top-10 recruiting classes are ready to pay off big in the coach’s third year in Knoxville.
Standing in the way are several losing streaks that are unfathomable to the mind, considering the program’s storied history. Tennessee hasn’t beaten Georgia since 2009, a span of five games. It gets worse. The Vols haven’t knocked off Alabama since 2006 (eight games) and Florida in a decade (10 games).
They’ll need some of those streaks to end this season if they want to contend for the SEC East.
Analyzing Tennessee’s 2015 schedule, here’s a closer look:
Tennessee will be favored in nine games this season, should we trust the Vegas insiders. If the Volunteers think they can contend for the SEC East crown, they’ll need a few “easy” wins in their pocket. Fortunately, several such games bookend the Vols’ schedule as Tennessee benefits from some less-than-stellar non-conference opponents. If Butch Jones’ squad wants to be taken seriously, they need to put away several teams with ease.
- vs. Bowling Green, Sept. 5
- vs. Western Carolina, Sept. 19
- vs. North Texas, Nov. 14
- vs. Vanderbilt, Nov. 28
To win the division title, it’s almost imperative that Tennessee beats preseason USA Today Coaches Poll No. 9 Georgia and No. 23 Missouri — the only other ranked divisional teams. The matchup with the Bulldogs happens at the midway point of the season and could set up Tennessee to control its destiny. That’ll mean defeating a Missouri team, however, that the Vols never have beaten in three tries since the Tigers joined the SEC in 2012.
- vs. Georgia, Oct. 10
- at Missouri, Nov. 21
There are no cakewalks on the SEC schedule. Each week can be as unforgiving as the last. The Volunteers face a month-long stretch that could define their season. Or potentially sink it back into mediocrity.
It begins on Sept. 26 with a trip to Gainesville and a stadium at which they last won in during the 2003 season with Casey Clausen under center. From there, the Vols return to Rocky Top to play host to a dangerous Arkansas squad that drubbed Tennessee 49-7 last year, then Georgia in a possible division-decider. They’ll round out the brutal stretch with a road tilt against Alabama before a trip to Kentucky ends the merciless month.
- at Florida, Sept. 26
- vs. Arkansas, Oct. 3
- vs. Georgia, Oct. 10
- at Alabama, Oct. 24
It’s tempting to choose Tennessee’s Sept. 12 matchup at home against No. 19 Oklahoma here, as the Vols look to avenge last year’s 34-10 thumping in Norman. But there aren’t too many tougher tasks in all of sports than traveling into Bryant-Denny Stadium to face a determined No. 4 Alabama squad.
The bad news is that Tennessee draws Georgia at home before traveling to Tuscaloosa. The good better news is a bye week separates the two vital games for the Vols.
SEASON DEFINING STRETCH
- Oct. 31-Nov. 28
No one expects Tennessee to escape the Florida-Arkansas-Georgia-Alabama rough patch unscathed. The real measure of the Vols’ season might be how well they respond and finish the final month after emerging from the dust in Tuscaloosa.
Tennessee closes out the season with five games against teams that finished the 2014 season a combined 30-33 (19-30 if you exclude Missouri) and 12-21 (5-19 sans the Tigers) within the SEC. After traveling to Kentucky, the Vols return home to a tough challenge from South Carolina and a non-conference contest against North Texas.
Sandwiched between the Mean Green and the season finale at home against Vanderbilt is a road tilt in Columbia versus Missouri with a potential chance to win the program’s sixth SEC East title and first since 2007.