October is to November as…

A year from now, conversations about #21 Tennessee would start with, “Okay, we’re nine spots out of the playoff.”

There are always opportunities to improve one’s resume in the SEC, and that’s especially true for the Vols this season. In these changing rhythms, consider this:

  • Alabama was the first ranked opponent Tennessee faced. The last time the Vols didn’t play a ranked foe until October was 1982.
  • The Vols should play two ranked opponents in the last three games of the regular season (#16 Missouri, #1 Georgia). The last time the Vols played two ranked foes in the last three games (non-pandemic) was 1958!

Between here and there is Kentucky: one of the reasons the Vols didn’t close with ranked foes for a long time, but currently riding seven straight years of bowl eligibility. The Cats started hot, then cooled immediately: beat Florida by 19, lost to Georgia and Missouri by a combined 55.

Everyone is more human this season. In SP+, the only breakaway team is the one at the center of the controversy this week in Ann Arbor…and even they would be just fifth overall in last year’s ratings. Behind them are the aforementioned Georgia Bulldogs, who this week would be about a six point favorite in Knoxville. Alabama is next, who the Vols just feel like they let get away in Tuscaloosa.

And in Lexington, the match-up is almost dead even in SP+.

This season is taking on the feel of some of those late Fulmer teams: when the margins are thinner, it feels like anything can happen. Sometimes you get November 2006, when multiple ranked teams got the best of a depleted Vol squad. Sometimes you get November 2007, when multiple unranked teams almost got the best of a young Vol squad…but Tennessee won the East.

That option, by the way, is still alive and well. When the two-time national champs look as mortal as they do, it’s not crazy to ask for a stub of the toe against Florida, Missouri, or Ole Miss. Any one of those (and additional losses from Florida if it’s the Gators) would set up November 18 as an SEC East title game, if the Vols can get there without another defeat. And if not, Tennessee would still get to take a shot at the number one team in the land.

There is incredibly meaningful football available in November, and not just next year in an expanded playoff field. To do that, the Vols have to finish October the way they started it. On the other side of frustration – for both the Vols and Kentucky – is an important football game. Move on, and you can keep moving on.

Go Vols.

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Mr B
Mr B
6 months ago

Incredible stats on unranked foes. This team feels like an early Rick Barnes squad. As the depth of the roster improves the team should continue to improve and manage the SEC gauntlet. Go Vols!