Tennessee might end up with the toughest schedule in the nation if, in fact, the Vols end up playing LSU and Ole Miss for their 9th and 10th conference games. The Vols would have to travel to LSU for the match-up but would host the Rebels and Lane Kiffin in Knoxville.
Despite the tough draw, the Vols do receive one added benefit with the conference-only model.
Tennessee will get to play their in-state rival Vanderbilt as scheduled. No other team in the East division will get to play against their in-state rival, other than the two teams. Georgia-Georgia Tech, Kentucky-Louisville, South Carolina-Clemson, Florida-Florida State, will now be canceled in lieu of the conference-only schedule the SEC has adopted.
These are rivalries that have impressive streaks for being played annually.
While Tennessee holds the series lead 76-33-5, the two teams have played every season since 1913, minus 1924, 1943, and 1944. The two teams have played every year since 1945, and this year will mark the 75th straight year of the in-state matchup. Vanderbilt has made the rivalry more interesting in recent years, but Tennessee snapped a three-game winning streak by the Commodores in 2019 to split the decade record at 5-5.
While the Commodores were not able to truly sustain success against the Vols until the last decade, the rivalry itself is an important piece of what Tennessee is building and for the Volunteer state, in general.
Jeremy Pruitt emphasized locking the state down in recruiting in 2020, and he will have the opportunity to sign a large number of prospects from the state again in 2022. It is always nice to have the opportunity to boast that you are the best in the state, and Tennessee will look to start another long winning streak against the Commodores under Pruitt.
Being able to keep your in-state rival on the schedule is key for your fan-base, recruiting pitches, and national perception as well. It is an unprecedented year, obviously, but the Vols and Commodores will be able to say their in-state rivalry stayed intact.
Alabama-Auburn and Ole Miss-Mississippi State are the rivalry games from the SEC West that will remain intact.
Tennessee will continue its rivalry game against Alabama as well, as the two times have squared off every year in the "3rd Saturday of October" rivalry since 1944. The Vols will look to break a double-digit losing streak to Nick Saban.