It's not really accurate to say that Tennessee has a back-loaded schedule, because most of the difficult games for the Volunteers come in the first two months of the season. But when it comes to the interim goal for Tennessee -- making its way back to a bowl -- then the most important games might be in November. That's when the Volunteers will have their best opportunities to pick off the wins they'll need to get to the postseason, assuming all goes more or less according to plan in the first two months.
A little bit of this, a little bit of that. Two dense cupcakes -- both Utah State and Arkansas State are generally respectable mid-majors and are expected to follow suit this year -- kick off what could be a thoroughly entertaining September for Tennessee fans. At least until the Volunteers head into Oklahoma and see their two brand-new lines go up against a national title contender. Have fun! In all seriousness, the Oklahoma game could tell us the most about the Vols. Do they get blown out like Tennessee did against Oregon last year? Or do they keep things mildly respectable? The game against Georgia two weeks later marks a late SEC debut.
Killing time. Most of these games will feel, at least to the casual viewer, like a foregone conclusion. Certainly, a loss against Chattanooga or a win against Alabama both seem exceedingly unlikely. (The latter is more likely than the former, but both aren't something I would bank on.) The game against Florida is interesting, simply because the Vols are sandwiched between the Gators' bye week after Alabama on one side and Florida's game against LSU on the other. But on the merits, the Ole Miss game is the only game where there won't be a strong favorite, though the Rebels will probably get an small edge for most prognosticators.
The swing. Tennessee will almost certainly have three wins at this point, unless things are really going poorly. Winning three out of four in November would put them in the postseason, and the last three look to be the best opportunities. (Something tells me Steve Spurrier is going to spend a little bit of time on his game plan for Tennessee. Who knows -- he might even run the ball to kill the clock this time.) Kentucky at home and Vanderbilt in Nashville are winnable games, and Missouri has to come to Knoxville. If the Volunteers have four wins heading into November, they're in great shape for a bowl; if not, that Missouri game could be the difference between playing 13 games and playing 12.