One big switch in Tennessee football’s 2020 schedule makes things a lot more broken up for the Volunteers that year, and they should be happy about that.
It hasn’t been relevant in recent years given their struggles throughout the season, but when they are relevant, Tennessee football has always suffered from a group of games being packed together from the end of September through in the middle of October. Even with a bye week, it’s always a bit too much.
As a result, the layout of the 2020 schedule is very welcoming for the Vols. Whether or not it lasts remains to be seen. Also, the success of programs is cyclical in nature. However, when you look at traditional powers, things are finally breaking up.
The Vols’ brutal non-conference game, at the Oklahoma Sooners, is set between two easy home games, the Charlotte 49ers and Furman Paladins. Then they face the Florida Gators. However, that has all been par for the course in the past.
What shook things up was replacing their traditional game against the Georgia Bulldogs to start off October with, now, the Missouri Tigers, who have traditionally been a November foe. This was at the request of the Auburn Tigers, who didn’t like playing Georgia and the Alabama Crimson Tide in back to back weeks in November. Well, that switch helps the Vols as much as Auburn.
Despite Mizzou winning five of seven against UT and being a better program right now, in the grand scheme of things, everybody would admit that Georgia on a yearly basis is much likely to be a tougher team than Mizzou. The same is true with Florida. And it’s also true with Alabama.
The Vols would almost regularly have an instance in which they play Florida and Georgia back to back or Alabama and Georgia back to back. That was the case last year, in 2016, in 2015, and in 2014. It makes for a brutal October, something that has been an issue for Rocky Top for a while.
This dates back to 1996, when Georgia moved from being the Vols’ first SEC opponent to being traditionally somewhere between the last Saturday in September and second Saturday in October. Ever since that happened, Tennessee football has had brutal stretch runs during that time.
In 2001 and 2005-2007, they had a four of five-game stretch that began sometime in September or October in which every opponent would make a bowl game. It was most brutal in 2005, when they played three top five schools, another school that would finish in the top 25 and a bowl school.
Things got even more brutal after Phillip Fulmer was fired. That situation was the case from 2010 through 2013. From 2011 through 2013, they played four straight games against top 20 teams, and they played five straight against top 10 teams in 2013 plus a sixth against a top 25 team.
Tennessee football also faced four straight top 25 teams and five straight bowl teams in 2016, seven straight bowl teams in 2017 and five straight bowl teams and three straight top 25 teams in 2018. Simply put, when October hits, the road always gets brutal.
What makes things better for Rocky Top is that Mizzou isn’t the only thing to break the schedule up. Following them is a road trip to the South Carolina Gamecocks. Again, S.C. is better than UT as a program right now. However, they are still a much better opponent to face on a yearly basis than Georgia and Alabama back to back.
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So Mizzou, South Carolina and a bye all come between Florida and Alabama in 2020 with no Georgia in sight. That’s a very huge benefit. After Alabama are the Arkansas Razorbacks on the road and Kentucky Wildcats at home. Tennessee football right now is probably a better program than both. They dominated UK last year while Arkansas went 2-10.
After those teams is when Georgia finally comes up on the schedule. Then they face the Troy Trojans and Vanderbilt Commodores to close out the season. We know about Troy. Vandy is a wildcard under Derek Mason.
The point, however, is that Florida, Georgia and Alabama are the traditional toughest opponents for the Vols. That’s the case this year. What’s good about 2020 is that they are broken up into three different months. This should be a recurring thing going forward.
Tennessee football at its peak traditionally faces one non-conference power and those three elite schools. That’s what they are doing next year, with only Oklahoma and Florida being close to each other. Spreading them out, though, is going to be a big help for the Vols going forward, and that makes this change perfect.