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Recalibrating expectations for the Vols after Alabama and the Bye

The Vols can’t coast through the back half of their schedule, but it isn’t filled with the hazards of the first half, either.

NCAA Football: Florida at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back to your weekly recalibration of expectations for the Vols. The tough stretch is now behind us, and the rest of the way looks a bit smoother, provided the team gets healthy and plays to its potential each week. The pecking order of the back half is also beginning to establish itself.

Explanations are below, but here's the updated chart for this week:

5-30 SCALE Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4 Week 5 Week 6 Week 7 Week 9
6 Alabama Alabama Alabama
8 Alabama
9 Alabama
10 Georgia
11 Alabama
12 Georgia
13 Texas A&M Texas A&M
14 Georgia Florida (W; 38-28) Texas A&M
15 Texas A&M Texas A&M Georgia Texas A&M (L; 45-38 2OT) Alabama (L; 49-10)
17 Florida Georgia (W; 34-31)
18 Florida
19 Missouri Missouri Missouri
20 South Carolina Florida
21 Virginia Tech Virginia Tech (W; 45-24) South Carolina
22 Kentucky Missouri Kentucky
23 South Carolina Missouri Vanderbilt Kentucky Vanderbilt Missouri Vanderbilt
24 Kentucky Vanderbilt South Carolina South Carolina Kentucky Kentucky
25 Appalachian State (W; 20-13 (OT)) Missouri Vanderbilt Vanderbilt South Carolina Vanderbilt South Carolina
26 Vanderbilt Kentucky Kentucky South Carolina
27 Missouri
28 Ohio Ohio Ohio (W; 28-19)
29 Tennessee Tech Tennessee Tech Tennessee Tech Tennessee Tech Tennessee Tech Tennessee Tech Tennessee Tech Tennessee Tech

Recalibrating the Vols after Alabama

The Alabama game was almost no fun at all. I did enjoy the week leading up to it (woo for the benefits of optimism bias) and a couple of moments during the game itself, but mostly it looked like we had both completely underestimated just how good Alabama is and underaccounted for several things bothering the Vols. Bottom line, I don't think anyone's beating Alabama this year; they appear to be humming right along at an altogether different level than everyone else. Plus, the team Tennessee put on the field against the Tide wasn't the same team we'd been watching all year. Bad combination, that.

But now we look forward, and it's sounding like we'll get several key players back to begin the back stretch. Assuming we can remain mostly healthy, I'm guessing that the team we'll see starting this weekend will be basically the same one that we've seen against everyone but Alabama. I may allow for a slight step backward due to injuries, but nothing too drastic. By the way, I'm beginning to think that the team we saw against Texas A&M was really just a ghost of the first-half-of-the-season team. I'm really not sure how they pulled that off, except that they were running on just enough fumes to make it the game it was.

Recalibrating the Vols based on new results from past opponents

Note that the Vols, as of this week, have college football's toughest schedule. Tennessee's past opposition has a combined 32 wins and only seven losses.

Appalachian State (5-2, 3-0 Sun Belt, NR)

  • W1: Lost to Tennessee in OT, 20-13.
  • W2: Beat Old Dominion, 31-7.
  • W3: Lost to #25 Miami, 45-10.
  • W4: Beat Akron, 45-38.
  • W5: Beat Georgia State, 17-3.
  • W6: Bye.
  • W7: Beat LA-Lafayette 24-0.
  • W8: Beat Idaho, 37-19.

Virginia Tech (5-2, 3-1 ACC, #25)

The Hokies found their footing quickly after stumbling against Syracuse (but it's not their fault; they didn't know) and beat a decent Miami team. They could still cause problems in the ACC Championship Game for whichever of Clemson and Louisville wins the Atlantic.

Ohio (5-3, 3-1 MAC, NR)

  • W1: Lost in 3OT to Texas State, 56-54.
  • W2: Beat Kansas, 37-21.
  • W3: Lost to Tennessee, 28-19.
  • W4: Beat Gardner-Webb, 37-21.
  • W5: Ohio (not Miami) beat Miami (Ohio), 17-7. :-)
  • W6: Beat Bowling Green, 30-24.
  • W7: Lost to E Michigan, 27-20.
  • W8: Beat Kent State, 14-10.

Florida (5-1, 3-1 SEC, #14)

  • W1: Beat UMass, 24-7.
  • W2: Trounced Kentucky, 45-7.
  • W3: Beat North Texas, 32-0.
  • W4: Lost to Tennessee, 38-28.
  • W5: Beat Vanderbilt, 13-6.
  • W6: Postponed their game with LSU.
  • W7: Beat Missouri, 40-14.
  • W8: Bye.
The Gators, whom the Vols need to lose at least one game, have played one actual game in the past three weeks. In the past month, they've played two teams, neither of which are very good. They've played one game against a good team (us), and they lost that one. Fortunately, they're now heading into the meat of their schedule, starting with a neutral site matchup against Georgia this week and then heading to Arkansas. They then host South Carolina before traveling to LSU for the hurricane makeup game. So there are still several opportunities for them to stumble.

10/1/16: Georgia (4-3, 2-3 SEC)

  • W1: Beat North Carolina, 33-24.
  • W2: Barely beat Nicholls, 26-24.
  • W3: Came back late to squeak out a win against Missouri, 28-27.
  • W4: Lost to Ole Miss 45-14.
  • W5: Lost to Tennessee, 34-31.
  • W6: Beat South Carolina, 28-14.
  • W7: Lost to Vanderbilt, 17-16.
  • W8: Bye.

Oh, my. Avert your eyes.

10/8/16: Texas A&M (6-1, 4-1 SEC, #9)

  • W1: Beat #16 UCLA in OT, 31-24.
  • W2: Beat Prairie View A&M, 67-0.
  • W3: Beat Auburn, 29-16.
  • W4: Beat Arkansas, 45-24.
  • W5: Beat South Carolina, 24-13.
  • W6: Beat Tennessee, 45-38 in double overtime.
  • W7: Bye.
  • W8: Lost to Alabama, 33-14.

Having a bye week before running into the Alabama buzzsaw didn't matter much for A&M. They are still probably the second-best team in the SEC West, though.

10/15/16: Alabama (8-0, 5-0 SEC, #1)

  • W1: Clobbered #20 USC, 52-6.
  • W2: Beat Western Kentucky, 38-10.
  • W3: Beat #19 Ole Miss, 48-43.
  • W4: Beat Kent State, 48-0.
  • W5: Beat Kentucky, 34-6.
  • W6: Beat #16 Arkansas, 49-30.
  • W7: Clobbered #9 Tennessee, 49-10.
  • W8: Beat #6 Texas A&M, 33-14.

This program is a machine right now and is looking more unstoppable than ever before. Eddie Jackson did break his leg and will be out for the season.

Recalibrating the Vols' future opponents

10/29/16: South Carolina (3-4, 1-4 SEC, NR)

  • W1: Beat Vanderbilt, 13-10.
  • W2: Lost to Mississippi State, 27-14.
  • W3: Survived East Carolina, 20-15.
  • W4: Lost to Kentucky, 17-10.
  • W5: Lost to Texas A&M, 24-13.
  • W6: Lost to Georgia, 28-14.
  • W7: Bye.
  • W8: Beat UMass, 34-28.

Expectations for a Vols win (on a scale from 5-30): South Carolina found something that worked, and it was either naming true freshman Jake Bentley the new starting quarterback or playing 1-7 UMass. The Gamecocks move up a spot, but mostly only because Missouri has circled back around to the back of the pack. Credit for the win, though, I guess.

W1 W2 W3 W4 W5 W6 W7 W9
23 23 24 21 24 25 26 25

11/5/16: Tennessee Tech (3-5, 3-3 OVC, NR)

  • W1: Lost to Wofford, 21-7.
  • W2: Beat Austin Peay, 41-7.
  • W3: Lost to Mercer, 34-27.
  • W4: Lost to UT Martin, 44-23.
  • W5: Beat Eastern Kentucky, 33-30 in OT.
  • W6: Lost to Jacksonville State, 40-21.
  • W7: Lost to E Illinois, 30-24.
  • W8: Beat SE Missouri St., 21-20.

Expectations for a Vols win (on a scale from 5-30): When they play a team whose name I recognize, I may consider changing my mind, but for now, nope.

W1 W2 W3 W4 W5 W6 W7 W9
29 29 29 29 29 29 29 29

11/12/16: Kentucky (4-3, 3-2 SEC, NR)

  • W1: Collapsed and lost to Southern Miss, 44-35.
  • W2: Lost to Florida, 45-7.
  • W3: Beat New Mexico State, 62-42.
  • W4: Beat South Carolina, 17-10.
  • W5: Lost to Alabama, 34-6.
  • W6: Beat Vanderbilt, 20-13.
  • W7: Bye.
  • W8: Beat Mississippi State, 40-38.

Expectations for a Vols win (on a scale from 5-30): Watch that video, because the Wildcats executed the end of that game very well. In my mind, these guys (and Vandy -- see below) have put a bit of distance between themselves and South Carolina/Missouri. 22.

W1 W2 W3 W4 W5 W6 W7 W9
24 26 27 22 23 24 24 22

11/19/16: Missouri (2-5, 0-3 SEC, NR)

  • W1: Lost to West Virginia, 26-11.
  • W2: Beat Eastern Michigan, 61-21.
  • W3: Lost to Georgia, 28-27.
  • W4: Beat Delaware State, 79-0.
  • W5: Lost to LSU, 42-7.
  • W6: Bye.
  • W7: Lost to #18 Florida, 40-14.
  • W8: Lost to MTSU, 51-45.

Expectations for a Vols win (on a scale from 5-30): Oops. 27.

W1 W2 W3 W4 W5 W6 W7 W9
19 25 23 19 19 22 23 27

11/26/16: Vanderbilt (4-4, 1-3 SEC, NR)

  • W1: Lost to South Carolina, 13-10.
  • W2: Beat MTSU, 47-24.
  • W3: Lost to Georgia Tech, 38-7.
  • W4: Beat Western Kentucky, 31-30 in overtime.
  • W5: Lost to Florida, 13-6.
  • W6: Lost to Kentucky, 20-13.
  • W7: Beat Georgia, 17-16.
  • W8: Beat Tennessee State, 35-17.

Expectations for a Vols win (on a scale from 5-30): No points for the Tennessee State win, but beating Georgia is certainly worth something. They can't leapfrog Kentucky, though, because Kentucky beat them, so 23.

W1 W2 W3 W4 W5 W6 W7 W9
26 24 25 23 25 23 25 23