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SEC Schedule Rotation - Vols Have Played East's Most Difficult Schedule Since Expansion

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Playing Alabama already ramps up the degree of difficulty, but the cross-division rotating opponents have done the Vols no favors in the last few years.

Michael Chang/Getty Images

Schedules will always be out of balance.  Even within your own division, where everybody plays everybody, the home/away balance can impact the outcome of a season.  When comparing schedules in the SEC Tennessee is at an automatic disadvantage right now because we play Alabama every year...but we want to play Alabama every year, so we're not complaining.

But in the SEC's three year old cross-division rotation, the Vols have had the most difficult draw of any team in the East.

I'm sure much of this is just bad luck, but it's been bad business for Tennessee Football even beyond the new 14-team league in 2012; the year before Tennessee's two rotating SEC West opponents were #1 at the time and eventual #2 LSU, and eventual #5 Arkansas.   In the last three years Tennessee has had the extreme misfortune of catching teams on their way up instead of on their way down:  an undefeated Mississippi State team in 2012, the SEC Champions from Auburn in 2013, and a healthy top five Ole Miss this season.  While there may have been no free wins against the SEC West this year, that hasn't been the case over the last few seasons.  Considering we already play Alabama, Tennessee has still found a way to face not just the most difficult rotation among SEC East teams, but almost the most difficult rotation possible.

Here are the rotating cross-division opponents for SEC East teams over the last three years, with their ranking at the time of the matchup and their eventual record at the end of the year:

FLORIDA

  • 2012:  at Texas A&M (11-2)
  • 2013:  Arkansas (3-9)
  • 2014:  at #3 Alabama (11-1)
  • Total:  25-12
GEORGIA
  • 2012:  Ole Miss (7-6)
  • 2013:  #6 LSU (10-3)
  • 2014:  at Arkansas (6-6)
  • Total:  23-15
KENTUCKY
  • 2012:  at Arkansas (4-8)
  • 2013:  #1 Alabama (11-2)
  • 2014:  at LSU (8-4)
  • Total:  23-14
MISSOURI
  • 2012:  #1 Alabama (13-1)
  • 2013:  at #24 Ole Miss (8-5)
  • 2014:  at #24 Texas A&M (7-5)
  • Total:  28-11
SOUTH CAROLINA
  • 2012:  at #9 LSU (10-3)
  • 2013:  Mississippi State (7-6)
  • 2014:  at #5 Auburn (8-4)
  • Total:  25-13
TENNESSEE
  • 2012:  at #19 Mississippi State (8-5)
  • 2013:  #7 Auburn (12-2)
  • 2014:  at #3 Ole Miss (9-3)
  • Total:  29-10
VANDERBILT
  • 2012:  Auburn (3-9)
  • 2013:  at #14 Texas A&M (9-4)
  • 2014:  at #4 Mississippi State (10-2)
  • Total:  22-15
You'll notice Missouri has the second most difficult schedule during this run, and they've won the East twice.  That's what going 5-1 against the East the last two years will do for you.  The rotation can't kill you by itself.  But if you're in the midst of a rebuild like Tennessee, it can certainly try.

Also of note:  in the entire SEC, the team with the easiest cross-division rotation the last three years?  Alabama, by far:  5-7 Missouri in 2012, 2-10 Kentucky last year, 6-5 Florida this year.  Again, the rotation won't make or break you, but it can certainly help if you're leaning one direction or the other.

Tennessee, true to form, is scheduled to get another up-and-comer next season when Arkansas comes to Knoxville.  For whatever reason the Vols just have a way of catching teams at their peak.  Tennessee should be good enough to write their own story instead of having a ridiculous schedule dictate it to them in the future.  But when we talk about Tennessee's insane strength of schedule these last few years, it's not just the Oregons and Oklahomas and Alabamas of the world.  Tennessee has faced a steeper challenge than any other team in the division before you even throw Alabama in the picture.  Thankfully this year the Vols still came out on the right side of six wins.