Before the season began, we ranked the Vols' 2015 opponents in order of how tough we thought it would be to beat them. Now that the regular season is in the books, I thought we'd re-rank them according to how we actually did against them.
Here's the table:
|5-30 SCALE||Preseason (In order of chance of winning)||Postseason (in order of margin of victory/loss)|
|13||Alabama (L; 19-14)|
|14||Arkansas (L; 24-20)|
|16||Oklahoma||Oklahoma (L; 31-24 2OT)|
|17||Missouri||Florida (L; 28-27)|
|19||South Carolina||South Carolina (W; 27-24)|
|21||Georgia (W; 38-31)|
|22||Kentucky||Missouri (W; 19-8)|
|25||Bowling Green||North Texas (W; 24-0)|
|26||Vanderbilt (W; 53-28)|
|27||Bowling Green (W; 59-30)|
|28||North Texas||Kentucky (W; 52-21)|
|29||Western Carolina||Western Carolina (W; 55-10)|
To begin the season, we had a few different groupings. First up were cupcakes Western Carolina and North Texas. Next was the Vanderbilt, Kentucky grouping, and we thought that Bowling would be closer to them than the first group. After that were South Carolina and Florida, who we considered to be more difficult than Kentucky and Vandy, but still probably not very good and therefore beatable. Then we had the coin flips -- Missouri, Oklahoma, and Arkansas -- followed by probably-unbeatables Georgia and Alabama with some distance between them.
So how did it all shake out? Turns out that Vandy, Kentucky, and Bowling Green were all pretty much in the same group as Western Carolina and North Texas, with the Vols blowing all of them out by three touchdowns and a field goal or more. And the other end of the spectrum wasn't as far away as we thought; even Alabama was in reach until the end of the game, and we lost by only five points. We actually beat Georgia by a touchdown.
So to me, the entire continuum from "We'll certainly beat them" to "We'll never beat them" shrunk from one end to the other. Plus, the entire thing shifted toward the positive end of the spectrum.
The middle, of course, is where things got confusing and went a bit sour. We thought we'd struggle with Missouri but didn't. We thought we'd beat South Carolina, but struggled doing so. We thought we'd lose to Georgia, but didn't. We thought we'd beat Florida, but didn't. And on the non-Missouri coin flips, we came up just short on both of them.
Put another way, we absolutely dominated five opponents. We beat three more SEC East rivals in close games, two of which (Missouri and South Carolina) we should have won and the other of which (Georgia) turned out to be good but maybe not quite as good as we thought before the season started. Of our four losses, we have an overtime loss to one team likely to play in the CFB (Oklahoma), a five-point loss to another team likely to play in the CFB (Alabama), a four-point loss to Arkansas, and the one-point heartbreaker to a Florida team that somehow turned out to be both worse and better than we thought. If you count overtime as a one-point loss, that's 11 points from undefeated, closer than we've been in a very long time.
That conclusion led me to look up point differentials for the last three seasons. In 2013, the Vols got outscored 348-286, a negative point differential of 62. In 2014, Tennessee turned that around, outscoring its opponents 376-315, a positive difference of 61. And this season, Team 119 outscored its opponents 412-254. That's a trend from -62 to 61 to 158.
So in 2013, we were routinely getting blown out and otherwise just plain beat by the competition. In 2014, we improved but were just getting beat. This year, though, we routinely blew out opponents, and when we did lose, it was only barely.