We are 46 days away from Tennessee Volunteers Football. The Josh Heupel era will kick off on Thursday, September 2nd, at 7:00 p.m. EST on the SEC Network against Bowling Green. After a shortened season last fall due to COVID-19, Tennessee will play a full 12-game schedule, and we will rank each opponent in this breakdown.
No.12 Tennessee Tech
The in-state Golden Eagles are fresh off a 2-5 spring season, but they were within one score in three of their five losses. Still, they should prove no match for Josh Heupel's offensive tempo. Tennessee should light up the scoreboard and look to get in a groove before kicking off SEC play.
No.11- Bowling Green
These next two spots could have gone either way. Bowling Green went 0-5 in a shortened MAC season last fall, and starting the 2020 season in a night game at Neyland Stadium is not ideal. Tennessee's offense will play at warp speed week one, and the Vols should simply out athlete the Falcons, who let up 30 plus points in each loss last fall.
No.10 South Alabama
The Jaguars come to Knoxville to give the Vols a break during SEC play. South Alabama head coach Kane Wommack will be fully immersed in his first season as head coach, but the Vols should put up points in this matchup-up as they look to close out the month of November strong.
Tennessee will play the Commodores in the last week of November, and new head coach Clark Lea certainly has the opportunity to be impactful in Nashville. He is highly regarded in coaching circles, but he will have a rough go to overcome early, including depth issues. Vanderbilt is no doubt Tennessee's most winnable conference game.
The Panthers should prove a tough week two test for the Vols. They went 6-5 last fall, and they will look to build on that. They are a disciplined team that is coached well, and they will be out to knock off their toughest out of conference opponent in 2021. This is a winnable game for Tennessee in week two, but it will not be one that is likely decided early on in the contest.
No.7 South Carolina
Beamer ball, or the new version of it, will be in full effect in Columbia by the time the Gamecocks head to Knoxville in October. This is another winnable game on Tennessee's schedule, as South Carolina's depth is depleted in several areas. However, expect the Gamecocks to be strong up front defensively, and if they can control the line of scrimmage, they can keep this contest interesting throughout.
Tennesse beat Missouri at home last fall, but this season the Vols head to Columbia, which is never an easy place to play. Had the Tigers made a quarterback switch earlier in week two in 2020, the result against Tennessee could have looked different. Eli Drinkwitz is proving to be a solid SEC coach on the field and on the recruiting trail, and he needs to build momentum during his second season.
It is hard to imagine the Wildcats ever being this high on the list, given the historic success Tennessee has had against the team from Lexington. Credit Mark Stoops, though. His team will be physical up front on both sides, and they are sound all-around defensively. They will look to find a new offensive identity with Joey Gatewood, and this will be another tough-fought game in Lexington.
No.4 Ole Miss
Lane Kiffin produced a solid recruiting class in 2020 while he added depth in key positions. Don't look for Ole Miss to be a playoff contender, but they are going to be a tough out for teams all of 2021. Veteran QB Matt Corrall will have plenty of weapons to utilize, as the Rebels offense will look to pick up where they left off. The former Tennessee head coach will look to be on his A-game as a play-caller during his return to Knoxville on October 16th. This game should feature plenty of storylines and excitement.
Dan Mullen's program has plenty of questions to answer heading into the 2020 season. Can they fix several areas on the defense? Can Emory Jones be the next successful quarterback under Mullen's tutelage? How do you replace Kyle Pitts and the weapons on the outside? Still, the Vols' lack of success against the Gators is notable, and this contest is still a top-three matchup in terms of difficulty.
Georgia is once again the pre-season darling for most media outlets. This may be Kirby Smart's best chance to get over the hump and win the title. Alabama has plenty of players to replace from last season's historic run, and much like the Bulldogs' previous trip to the playoffs, Smart had several key players choose to return to Athens. Jordan Davis and Zamir White bring a tremendous amount of leadership and experience back to Athens, but we will find out in week one if the Bulldogs are serious playoff contenders with JTD behind center. Still, Smart's teams are highly disciplined defensively, and Tennessee will have to execute a close to perfect game or create plenty of explosive plays to be in this one in the fourth quarter. Although we have seen teams have success attacking Georgia's safeties vertical with speed, and Josh Heupel will be the aggressor regardless of the score or situation.
The Crimson Tide once against lost multiple first-round draft picks, the Heisman Trophy winner, several key coaches, but they will look to reload again under Nick Saban. Tennessee has not beaten Alabama in almost a decade and a half. Nick Saban's team will feature young weapons led by former top-recruit Bryce Young, who projects to be a more polished Tua Tagavaloia. Once again, the Tide will be the most formidable opponent for all 12 teams they face this fall.