Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports
The Vols and Virginia Tech are now officially on the books for September 10, 2016 in what should be the largest college football game ever with a capacity somewhere in the neighborhood of 150,000. While that game will certainly be a bigger spectacle than just about anything else the Vols can pull off, the neutral site also works because Bristol is an easy destination for the Vols and Hokies. However, Dave Hart mentioned in his comments this week that Tennessee was also looking at additional sites to play:
Which gets us to thinking...where else (and who else) might the Vols play?
- LP Field (68,789)
- Last Played: 2010 Music City Bowl, 2002 neutral site vs Wyoming
- Distance from Knoxville: 180 miles
- Possible Opponents: Louisville (174 mi), Notre Dame (428 mi), Northwestern (491 mi), Illinois (376 mi)
This is obvious choice 1A, something the Vols did eleven years ago to buy out of the back half of a home-and-home with Wyoming. The problem here is there's not really a major non-SEC team that would be an equal length away other than Louisville. Butch Jones and Charlie Strong are friends, however, so don't rule that out. If the Vols can't land a big fish in Nashville, it may still be worth pursuing to court a mid-major into a game in Knoxville and a game in Nashville down the line.
Georgia Dome (71,228) or, in the not-too-distant future, The Stankonia Dome
- Last Played: 2012 Chck-Fil-A Kickoff Classic
- Distance from Knoxville: 214 miles
- Possible Opponents: The ACC
This is obvious choice 1B, the only issue being the pre-existing CFA Kickoff Game, which is currently booked for an OleMiss/Boise State & Alabama/West Virgnia double-header in 2014, and Auburn vs. Louisville in 2015.
- Liberty Bowl (59,308)
- Last Played: at Memphis 2010, vs Ole Miss in 1996
- Distance from Knoxville: 391 miles
- Possible Opponents: Oklahoma State (464 mi), TCU (487 mi)
The problem here is two-fold: teams like these have already played in neutral-site games in the state of Texas, and the Liberty Bowl is a terrible venue. I left Oklahoma off that list above because we're playing them already home-and-home in 2014 and 2015, but you could still catch a pretty decent matchup with fairly similar proximity to Memphis...but would the Vols invest themselves in this idea with the Memphis football series already coming back on the table later this decade?
Those three are ideas I'm sure Tennessee has thought about multiple times before and even engaged in. But here's two more that make some sense to me:
- Bank of America Stadium (73,298)
- Last Played: never
- Distance from Knoxville: 231 miles
- Possible Opponents: North Carolina (140 mi), Duke (143 mi)
So we never got that UT/UNC regular season game, then we all know what happened in the Music City Bowl. But with a new administration in place for the Vols, what about playing a one-off now in Charlotte? And if the Tar Heels aren't game, couldn't we get a date with David Cutcliffe? Playing Duke is obviously riskier because of ticket sales, but I think for an early season game the Vols could still carry their fair share of the burden here, if not much more so. There's also Clemson here, but I didn't include them because I don't see why they'd go 30 minutes up the road when they could just play a home game, and they've got plenty of the SEC already.
- Paul Brown Stadium (65,535)
- Last Played: never
- Distance from Knoxville: 251 miles
- Possible Opponents: Ohio State (107 mi), Cincinnati
So the Vols and Buckeyes are no longer playing a home-and-home that was scheduled at the end of the Fulmer Era for 2018-19, but what about renewing it for one date in Cincy? The mileage would obviously be advantage Buckeyes, but you and I both know the Vols would show up. You could also think about Notre Dame here (244 miles, closer than Nashville), but it would seem weird to me for two teams to play a neutral site game in a state neither of them resides in. And if none of that works, what about Butch's old team in a home-and-neutral series?
What other ideas are good for UT neutral site games?