We said for weeks if the Vols added one of Auburn/LSU/Texas A&M and one Mississippi school, in any combination, Tennessee would be getting a fair deal. Turns out, not so much: the Vols travel to Auburn and host Texas A&M (for the first time! in front of few/no fans!).
Our immediate takeaways:
The imbalance with Florida and Georgia hurts most. The Gators and Dawgs each play two of the SEC West’s top four teams, AND now they both play Arkansas as well, negating whatever advantage that already provided Tennessee. Georgia added the Hogs and Mississippi State to their already-difficult combo of Alabama and Auburn. Florida, who had the scheduling advantage before the pandemic, keeps LSU and adds Texas A&M while also facing Ole Miss and Arkansas. But the Vols will get Alabama, Auburn, and A&M. That’s two Top 15 SEC West opponents for Florida and Georgia, but three – including Alabama – for Tennessee. This is the biggest gripe, and the biggest block in the way of any dark horse hopes in the SEC East.
Arkansas has the most difficult schedule in the conference. Which makes sense for a team riding a 19-game SEC losing streak? One thing was clear: the league favored its best teams instead of balance across the board. One SEC West team had to play both Florida and Georgia, and the league decided it should be the Razorbacks.
Using the SP+ tier system from our mock schedule, here’s how each division’s schedules rank:
- 9 tier points (most difficult): Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee
- 10 tier points: Georgia, Missouri, Vanderbilt
- 11 tier points: Florida
- 7 tier points: Arkansas
- 8 tier points: Alabama, Auburn
- 10 tier points: Mississippi State, Texas A&M
- 11 tier points: Ole Miss
- 12 tier points: LSU
For reference, LSU plays Florida, Missouri, South Carolina, and Vanderbilt. It’s good to be the king, apparently.
How the schedule falls is now the most important thing for Tennessee. Since literally half the schedule is against a Top 15 opponent, the Vols should really hope to see those five teams every other game, alternating between:
- Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Texas A&M
- Arkansas, Kentucky, Missouri, South Carolina, Vanderbilt
But, as we’ve seen, don’t count on the powers that be in the SEC to show favor to a program that isn’t at the top right now.
One final note: Tennessee’s current athletic director comes from a time when the Vols welcomed anyone, anywhere, anytime.
If they play this thing, we’re gonna need all of that mentality.