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Baselining expectations for the Tennessee Volunteers 2016 season

What do we expect out of our team and its opponents this year?

Outback Bowl - Northwestern v Tennessee Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images

I just set my DVR to record the Appalachian State Mountaineers at the Tennessee Volunteers game, and boy did it feel good. I'm often so busy leading up to the season that I almost -- almost -- forget to enjoy the anticipation. Sometimes, Game Week is here before I'm ready, and then I'm scrambling to keep up. It's like waking up in the air, parachuting on to the top of a speeding bus headed for a cliff. Better wake up. Fast. It's here.

It's been kind of like that this year, too, but also different in that the anticipation started much sooner this year, and the burn has been slower. So I'm still busy and still have too much to do, but it hasn't snuck up on me this time. This time, I've snuck up on it. And there's just something about it showing up on my DVR programming guide that makes its imminent arrival real.

It's here. Game Week.

This Game Week is a little bit weird, though, what with the opener being Thursday night. Normally, folks whistle into the office on the First Friday, spend a few hours giving actual work the old college try, and then just give up right after lunch. I don't know whether that happens Thursday this week or sometime Wednesday. Shoot, it may start today.

We also don't really know what it's like to have to work the day after a night in Neyland, but we're going to find out this Friday. My guess is that it looks a lot like those other First Fridays. Assuming a win, we'll whistle into work, rehash the game with colleagues until lunch, and then just call it a weekend at 1:30. Not that I ever did that, mind you. :-)

My point is this: It's Football Time in Tennessee, and everything changes this week.

So what do we do here at Rocky Top Talk on Mondays? Most Mondays, we'll recalibrate our expectations for the rest of the season based on what the Vols and their prior and future opponents did the prior week. This week, though, we're just going to baseline it as best we can with too-sparse information and too much gut.

Not much has changed, at least for me, since we did this back in June. Alabama still looks like the toughest win to get. Georgia still looks like the most critical to the Vols' SEC East hopes. And the Florida game still makes us the most nervous. Texas A&M might still be the toughest game we're not talking about, and then there are three other groups of teams -- one we should probably beat, another we really should beat, and a group that should be breathers.

But that's just me. Have a look at the chart below, and let us know your thoughts.

One preseason note first, though. We've been using a 5-30 point scale for this exercise for a few seasons now. Why a 5-30 point scale? It's a long story, but the nutshell version is that it's an inside joke. There's nothing magical about any part of the 5-30 point scale, but -- and here's the joke -- we esteem it as if it's some kind of infallible Sports Constitution upon which the game of college football was founded. That's the fun. Yes, this season there will again be new readers who will walk into the room in the middle of the joke and ask some serious question pertaining to the precision of this intentionally imprecise exercise, but don't hate. Just hit them with the link that should make it all clear and then welcome those who bother to follow it. As far as I'm concerned, if someone is presented with the link and doesn't bother to read it, they are fair game for stringing along. :-) That's not to say there isn't any value to the process. There is. Just remember this: It's really only about the order and the spacing.

Anyway, this particular inside joke may have long since run its course, but we're keeping it because it's *our* inside joke, and in that respect, it's like my grandma's homemade noodles. It feels like home.

So here is one man's preseason opinion as to the relative challenges presented by the Vols 2016 schedule. 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