Yes, we're still previewing 2010 in the SEC.
The biggest opponent for Tennessee this year might be its schedule. Because it is horribly front-loaded (five of its first seven opponents could plausibly be in the Top 25), Tennessee could easily have a losing record into November. And still go to a bowl. The question is whether a relatively inexperienced team's psyche -- not to mention a team that is following its third coach in as many seasons and saw riots when the last one left -- can rebound from that sort of a start to actually put together six or seven wins. Getting one upset early on could provide enough momentum to pull through.
AN EARLY WIN?
OREGON | Sept. 11
Both of these teams will face cupcakes the first week before the Ducks travel East to Knoxville for a 7 p.m. ET showdown. That should nullify any time-zone / jet-lag factor the Vols might hope to have in their favor. Oregon also plays Portland State after Tennessee, meaning the Vols will have the Ducks' undivided attention. Still, strange things happen in early games. Tennessee is 1-1 in its home installment of its last two Pac-10 series, having defeated Cal in 2006 but lost to UCLA last year.
FLORIDA | Sept. 18
Will the Gator's Brantley-led offense be ready for primetime? Probably, but with Miami (OH) and USF on the schedule for the Vols, there won't be any way to know for sure. Last year's game -- the infamous "Signature Moral Victory" for Lane Kiffin -- was disappointing for Florida fans who wanted to wax Tennessee. Tennessee hasn't won this game since 2004, suggesting Florida doesn't have too much to worry about. But back-to-back losses against Oregon and Florida at home will ensure the Vols have no better than a 2-2 record at the end of September.
at LSU | Oct. 2
The Bayou Bengals are, to me, the most dubious potential preseason Top 25 team of them all. Les Miles has set what has to be a land-speed record for going from idiot to genius and back to idiot. Jordan Jefferson is still something of a question mark. Tennesse does conveniently fall between West Virginia and the annual trip to Gainesville on the Tigers' schedule -- but the game is a night game in Death Valley. Need we say more?
NOVEMBER TO REMEMEBER?
OLE MISS | Nov. 13
The bad news is that Tennessee could be 4-5 or even 3-6 when this game kicks off. The good news is that this is the hardest game remaining on the schedule. Win a fifth game here, and the Vols could split the Vanderbilt-Kentucky finale for a bowl bid, or sweep for a seven-win season, which would have to be seen as a resounding success for Derek Dooley. Of course, if the showdown with the Rebels is loss No. 6, the games against the 'Dores and the 'Cats still leave an opportunity for a 13th game. But losing a seventh game if the team starts 3-6 would, obviously, be a death knell for postseason dreams.
at VANDERBILT | Nov. 20
The Commodores have actually had more success against the Vols in recent years than Kentucky (one win since 1983, a 28-24 victory in 2005). But no one expects Vanderbilt to do much of anything this year; the Dores could be one of the worst teams in the FBS. This isn' t a rivalry in the sense that "anyone can win when these two get together," and the most likely outcome is that Tennessee wins again.
KENTUCKY | Nov. 27
This one should be a lay-up. Kentucky hasn't defeated Tennessee since Ronald Reagan was celebrating his re-election, and there are likely to be a few hiccups as Joker Phillips takes over the program. In other words, if there's a program in the SEC East (save Vanderbilt) that's close to where Tennessee is in terms of uncertainty, it's the Wildcats. Then again, you can't win them all -- can you?
9.4.10 | TENNESSEE-MARTIN You're the real Tennessee. They're Tennessee-Martin. You best win.
9.25.10 | UAB The Blazers are still in the FCS. For now. So the game still counts toward bowl eligibility, I suppose.
10.9.10 | GEORGIA Improbably, the Vols are 3-1 in their last four games against the Dawgs, and the victories haven't even really been close. But even with the questions surrounding Georgia this year, it's hard to see anything other than a UGA win.
10.23.10 | ALABAMA This is one of the infamous post-bye games, so I guess we should go ahead and mark it down as a Tennessee win. Actually, the Tide does need to make sure they play better than last year, because there might not be a Daniel Moore painting at the end of this one.
10.30.10 | at SOUTH CAROLINA The Gamecocks actually narrowly outgained the Vols in last year's 31-13 Tennessee victory, but fumbled three times and threw an interception. This could be revenge time. Or it could be yet another example of South Carolina finding a creative way to lose to Tennessee.
11.6.10 | at MEMPHIS The Tigers are in rebuilding mode, like they have been for about five years now.