There’s one sure loss, two what should be sure wins and one potential tossup in September for Tennessee football in 2021. If the Vols are to have any shot at bowl eligibility, they’ve got to at least start the season 3-0 and can’t get out of the month with more than one loss.
Well, one analyst is projecting exactly that. Brad Crawford of 247Sports has the Vols getting out of September with a 3-1 record. Heading into October with that standing will have Rocky Top in pretty good shape going forward.
After opening the season against the Bowling Green Falcons, Tennessee football’s September slate includes two more home games against the Pittsburgh Panthers and Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles. They then visit the Florida Gators. Here is what Crawford wrote about their slate.
"If Tennessee can win the 50-50 games this season, the Vols will go bowling during Josh Heupel’s first campaign. One of those toss-ups comes in September against Pitt in Knoxville. That is a contest featuring two evenly-matched teams. The SEC opener at Florida two weeks later is likely too much to handle for a squad that will still be finding themselves early on. Bowling Green and Tennessee Tech should be wins to give the Vols some confidence. If Tennessee gets out of September with only one loss, the fans will take it."
It is true that 3-1 is the best case scenario for the Vols in that first month. Immediately after that, they visit the Missouri Tigers, which is considered a likely loss. However, then they host the South Carolina Gamecocks, a likely win since they finished ahead of and beat USC on the road last year and USC, like UT, is undergoing a coaching change this year.
At that point, Rocky Top would have four wins before its bye week, and while the Ole Miss Rebels and Alabama Crimson Tide are up next, a likely and then a sure loss, they could go into their bye with a 4-3 record. That would be a great way for them to end October.
Given the fact that the season closes with home games against the South Alabama Jaguars and Vanderbilt Commodores, it would seem that all the Vols have to do between September and those final two games if they start off 3-1 is beat South Carolina. This is what makes starting with that record so crucial. It will make or break the year.
Of course, all of this assumes Tennessee football will lose six of seven between starting 3-0 and their final two games of the year, including five straight. Still, the focus needs to be on those three non-conference games. Win them and a lot more things will fall into place.