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Athlon Sports ranks the SEC’s toughest 2018 schedules

Tennessee ranks near the top.

NCAA Football: South Carolina at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Playing in the SEC is no picnic — ever. It’s even worse when you’re trying to rebuild a program from the ground up, like first year head coach Jeremy Pruitt is doing. To make matters even more difficult, the Vols will take on one of the top offenses in the country when they face the West Virginia Mountaineers to open 2018.

Florida, at Georgia, at Auburn, Alabama and at South Carolina form a brutal five game stretch for Tennessee. That’s tough enough for Athlon to rank the Vols’ schedule the 4th hardest in the SEC.

Here’s what they had to say.

Pruitt’s Volunteers get cupcakes the following two weeks (ETSU and UTEP) before kicking off conference play with maybe the toughest five-game stretch in all of college football for 2018. A gauntlet that begins in Knoxville against rival Florida and concludes with South Carolina on the road. Sandwiched in between is the ultimate SEC trifecta of Georgia (away), Auburn (away) and Alabama (home). The schedule becomes much more manageable after that, but the Vols may not have much left in the tank by that point.

Tennessee checked in at No. 4. Only Texas A&M (who faces Clemson in non-conference), LSU (who faces Miami) and Auburn (who faces Washington) rank ahead of the Volunteers.

Non-conference aside, it’s probably safe to say that the Vols have the toughest road in SEC play. That five game stretch features the three highest ranked teams in the conference, along with rising Florida and South Carolina squads. That’s not ideal for a team coming off of a winless SEC season.

The Alabama rivalry is a protected game, of course, but the Vols received no favors landing Auburn as their other opponent out of the SEC West this year. Just one look at this schedule and you can see why most realistic Tennessee fans would be thrilled with a trip to a bowl this season.

You can view Athlon’s full rankings here.