The fact that Tennessee may have a more difficult schedule in 2014 than they experienced in 2013 almost seems unfair to the devoted fan. How could the football gods continue to levy such a burden on our beleaguered program? Surely, we deserve a break…some luck…..anything for just one more win this season to avoid that newly acquired dreadful 5-7 performance that seems lurking to plague this program.
A top line preview of the schedule, however, more than garners one’s attention even as we are in the home stretch of the recruiting cycle.
Game 1: Utah State in Knoxville:
· The only similarity in Utah State and last year’s game 1 opponent is the inclusion of the word "state" in the team name….Austin Peay State……a weak FCS foe. Out of a total of 255 total FBS and FCS schools last season, APSU finished 239 according to the Sagarin ratings….the bottom 5% of all D-1 teams.
· Utah State, who was no powerhouse a few years ago, has rebounded in recent years to become bowl eligible for the past three (3) consecutive years. The Aggies have won their last two (2) bowl games while their only loss was by a single point.
· Matt Wells returns for his second year as head coach after taking over for Gary Anderson who left for Wisconsin after building the current team.
· To be fair, the APSU "2014 game matchup" should be compared to the Chattanooga game played later in the 2014 season since the Mocs are the only FCS opponent on the Vols schedule. Either way, a more difficult foe for the Vols.
Game 2: Arkansas State in Knoxville
· Arkansas State will offer the Vols their 2nd straight bowl eligible team who also won their bowl game last year. It will also mark the second straight team that will come into Knoxville with an upset in mind as a "struggling Tennessee program" will be the prized opponent on their 2014 schedules.
· By all accounts, the Red Wolves should be as disoriented as the Vols as Arkansas State has been thru five head coaches in the past five seasons…..two of those are current notable SEC coaches Gus Malzahn and Hugh Freeze. However, they have been able win the Sun Belt Conference for the past three years which makes them better than last year’s Sun Belt foe, Western Kentucky.
· While way too early to be breaking down teams, Arkansas State will come to Knoxville with yet another new head coach and a new QB early in the season.
Game 3: at Oklahoma: Last year: at Oregon
· To say that the Vols 3rd game in 2014 "may not" be as wicked as facing the Oregon Ducks is like saying you have a better chance of not drowning in the Atlantic Ocean rather than the Pacific simply because its smaller.
· More to come on this matchup, but suffice to say a win is not guaranteed.
· Best to group these since the schedule has changed the order of the SEC teams, Florida and Georgia.
· The Florida game moves to game # 5 for the Vols in 2014. This will mark the first time since 2001 that Florida has not been Tennessee’s opening SEC game. This alone bodes well for the Vols as they won that 2001 game, played in December due to the postponement of the original game because of the 9/11 terrorists attacks on New York.
· Game 4 will now open the SEC for the Vols at Georgia. It’s not Florida, but it is on the road AND the Vols will have an OPEN week between Oklahoma and Georgia. Georgia…who knows?
· Game 6 will be a home game versus in state neighbor, Chattanooga while the Vols entertained South Alabama last season.
· Reviewing all three games as a whole, one might see a glimmer of optimism with this line up though nothing the Vols have done in past years offers anything promising other than one guarantee win. We shall see.
· Only the Alabama game is played on the same week as in 2013…..game # 8. The Tide will play in Knoxville. A.J.McCarron is gone. Saban is not. (I assume McCarron’s girl friend is gone as well)
· Game 7 has the Vols at Ole Miss technically replacing last year’s week 10 game with Auburn in Knoxville. The game at Ole Miss is the one rotating SEC west game that the Vols play each season now. One year in Knoxville/ the next on the road. It’s not TAMU or LSU, but Ole Miss seems to have a solid one to two year heads start versus the Vols in their rebuilding program.
· Game 9 in 2014 marks a road trip to Columbia as it did in 2013. The difference, this Columbia is Spurrier’s cock pit. Hard to imagine any SEC team having any "payback" in their head versus the Vols in recent years, but somehow I doubt this game slips off the radar in South Carolina.
· Game 10: Interesting to note that this set up with Kentucky marks a rather large change in the traditional Vol football schedule. Generally Kentucky and Vandy concluded the season for many years only to flip to Vandy and Kentucky in recent years. Regardless, the Vols will still have two SEC games remaining after this year’s tilt with the Wildcats. The game will be played in Knoxville after a bye week from the South Carolina game.
· Game 11 and 12: Missouri at home and Vandy in Nashville.
Let’s assume 3 wins versus the non-conference foes as we had in 2013 (APSU/WKU/South Alabama/Oregon). The fact that 2014 holds 3 bowl eligible games versus 2 in 2013 makes the 2014 schedule a little more aggressive, however.
The SEC is the same except the Vols trade BCS contender, Auburn, for Ole Miss. A win (on the road) is definitely no gimme. Missouri continues to be a mystery but one that is deadly…and Vandy…well…..Franklin is gone. That may bode well for Vol Nation in all facets of the game eventually, but wouldn’t it have been more fun to beat Vanderbilt with Franklin there.
I said last year that timing was everything when you play in the SEC. I think it safe to say the same in 2014. I like the schedule changes that have been made. Don’t know why. The changes in the Kentucky and Florida games seem to intrigue me the most….it may be subtle, but I think Tennessee just needed a change of scenery more than anyone else.