This is an overview. Predictions come later. Home games in CAPS.
8/31: vs. NC State (Atlanta)
9/8: GEORGIA STATE
9/29: at Georgia
This is a very interesting early slate for Tennessee. By the end of the season's first month, we'll know almost everything we'll need to know about the 2012 Vols. The opening Chick-fil-A game in Atlanta puts the team against a decent NC State team with a future NFL Draft pick in Mike Glennon. Georgia State, as well as Akron later, will give the team a chance to show what the best of its best looks like. Florida will have an outstanding defense, but the game is in the friendly atmosphere of Neyland Stadium. The final game is at Georgia, both a tough road test and a matchup with the most complete team they'll have seen to date. Everything you could want to see tested will get tested in these first five games.
10/13: at Mississippi State
10/27: at South Carolina
The bye week is a little early, but it is useful given what comes up in the rest of the month. The contest at Mississippi State will help to sort out the overall pecking order of the conference. The game versus Alabama will certainly be tough, but with it being a home game, perhaps it will be Derek Dooley's customary close game against a conference power. Closing out at South Carolina makes one heck of a second half to a rough back-to-back set of games. It also marks the third road game in a four-game stretch. This is definitely about as bad as it could have gotten, with only one team left on the schedule (Missouri) that is likely to be better than the "easy" opponent of this trio.
11/17: at Vanderbilt
The payoff for having a tough first month and even tougher October is having things calm down a bit in November, something Vols fans should be used to by now. Troy could have been a potential trap game a few years ago, but the program has fallen off. Mizzou is the toughest opponent here, but it's fortunately a home game. The customary final games against Vandy and UK close out the season, and Dooley definitely needs to finish better than 1-1 in them this year. Let's face it: this team is most likely not going to win 10 games. It's hard for me to predict Dooley getting the ax after just three years given the tire fire he inherited, but struggling again with the East's historic bottom dwellers as he did last year would not present a case for forward progress being made. At least, though, they don't have something similar to 2011's gauntlet of having to play at Alabama, LSU, and at Arkansas from the West plus at Florida in the East. This isn't a friendly schedule per se, but it's nowhere near as bad as last year's.