7. Pittsburgh Panthers
Saturday, Sept. 11; Neyland Stadium; Knoxville, Tenn.
You could say Tennessee football caught a bit of a break with its one major non-conference foe this year being the Pittsburgh Panthers. Under seventh-year head coach Pat Narduzzi, Pitt is coming off a somewhat disappointing 6-5 campaign. There are expectations for improvement, to be fair, and this is the truest of all tossup games for the Vols.
A couple of things make Pitt an easier out for UT than all Power Five foes outside of the South Carolina Gamecocks and Vanderbilt Commodores. For one, Pitt is not a preseason top 25 team in either poll. Also, the Panthers travel to Knoxville. No team left on this list fits both criteria.
Then there’s the fact that Pitt comes nine days after the Vols’ opener against the Bowling Green Falcons. As a result, they get a semi-rest, and they will have also finally gained some much-needed experience playing in Josh Heupel’s system. The combination of those two things could really work in their favor.
Of course, Pitt itself gets to host the UMASS Minutemen for its opener, so that’s a rest on its own. However, the Vols still have some things working in their favor for this game. A win would set the expectation for the season of at least six wins, but a loss makes a losing season inevitable for UT.