4. BYU Cougars
The Mississippi State Bulldogs give Tennessee football slightly more to gain and less to lose with a win or loss. However, the BYU Cougars are the first team on this list that put the Vols squarely behind the eight-ball with a loss.
BYU is coming off a 7-6 season, but they do have nine returning starters on offense and eight on defense. So they should take a huge step forward this year, and they are certainly capable of upsetting the Vols.
Since it is scheduled for Sept. 7 at 7 p.m. as their second game of the year, winning would mean a lot for UT and give them a good bit to gain. Losing, however, means they have to find an upset somewhere else to finish the regular season with a winning record, and that could be more difficult than you think.
There’s also the momentum that would come with beating the Cougars. If the Vols hold on, they will almost certainly be heading to Gainesville with a 3-0 record and riding a wave of momentum that they didn’t have in 2018.
That momentum opens the door for lots of things, and it’s why BYU is a critical non-conference opponent. Last year, the West Virginia Mountaineers weren’t as crucial as the Vols’ non-conference Power Five opponent because they were almost a circled loss for the Vols.
This year, Jeremy Pruitt needs to win all four non-conference games, and beating BYU makes that happen. It also gives him and the Vols a quality win early on in the season, as the Cougars should turn into a very good team as the year progresses.