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Ranking the Vols' Biggest Challenges in 2016

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Which games will present Team 120 with the biggest challenges of the season, and in what order?

Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

We asked yesterday which game this season makes you most nervous, and currently the Florida game is lapping the competition. That's understandable for a variety of reasons, not the least of which are the recent history of giving the game away and where it falls on the schedule.

But where are the Vols' biggest challenges headed into the 2016 season? And just how challenging do you feel they are right now, and how does it all look compared to last year?

We usually don't rank the Vols' opponents on the 5-30 point scale until much closer to the season, but because there's already so much talk about it, I thought we'd go ahead and christen the thing now. It will probably change in the fall once two-a-days take their toll anyway. What's the 5-30 point scale? It's a long story, but basically it's a method of ranking Tennessee's future opponents in order of perceived challenge with some visual representation of distance between the perceived challenges, a method that is infallible, inherently imperfect, and also largely an inside joke. That is, the 5-30 point column is a joke, but the slotting of the teams in their positions in the other columns is about how we feel.

So here's the SUMMER VOLS HYPE TRAIN version of this exercise. For reference and calibration, I've included the preseason version from last year along with the eventual results. If there's any line to be drawn between winning and losing last year, it was at the 16-17 mark, with anomalies in Florida on the win side and Georgia on the lose side. If there's any line to be drawn between winning and dominating last year, it appears to be at the 22 mark.

With that calibration, I've put my feelings and insecurities in the 2016 preseason column. My first knee jerk reaction was to move everything but Alabama down into last year's win zone, with Georgia right on the line. I then decided to just consider in my mind that the win zone has widened. And then I changed my mind again and went ahead and moved everything down. And then I didn't have the room between teams that I wanted, so I split the baby and scrunched the teams together where I could and decided the win zone line was at 12 this year instead of 17. I'm on record as being very concerned about Georgia despite them breaking in new coaches and players, and I'm wary of carrying much confidence from 2015 into 2016 when it comes to Alabama because we had a bye the week before last year, and this year it's at the end of an eight-week gauntlet and I think they're built better to withstand the same challenge.

So if we're expecting two losses (and there could certainly be more), I'm counting Alabama and then maybe Georgia or maybe one of the other two or three further down the line. So we need to get by Florida yes, but to me the Georgia game is most important because if we lose, we're less likely to get help needed to get to the SEC Championship. Maybe the non-Vols game we're going to care most about when it comes around is Georgia-Ole Miss.

One man's opinion. What's yours?

PREDICTIONS
5-30 SCALE 2015 (preseason, with eventual results) 2016 (preseason)
5
6
7
8 Alabama (L; 19-14)
9
10
11 Alabama
12 Georgia (W; 38-31) Georgia
13
14
15 Arkansas (L; 24-20) Texas A&M
16 Oklahoma (L; 31-24 2OT)
17 Missouri (W; 19-8) Florida
18
19 South Carolina (W; 27-24) Missouri
20 Florida (L; 28-27) South Carolina
21 Virginia Tech
22 Kentucky (W; 52-21)
23
24 Vanderbilt (W; 53-28) Kentucky
25 Bowling Green (W; 59-30) Appalachian State
26 Vanderbilt
27
28 North Texas (W; 24-0) Ohio
29 Western Carolina (W; 55-10) Tennessee Tech
30