2. Pittsburgh Panthers
Saturday, Sept. 11; Neyland Stadium; Knoxville, Tenn.
Since the Vanderbilt Commodores game is flirting with being a circled win for Tennessee football, we couldn’t put it above the one marquee non-conference game the Vols have. That game comes the second week of the season.
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In a matchup to honor the great Johnny Majors, the Vols have to pour everything they can into winning this game. Make no mistake, this is the truest tossup on here. Pitt is a 50/50 game, and quite honestly, there’s a chance Pat Narduzzi’s team will be favored over the Vols. However, UT’s path to six wins includes winning every toss-up, likely win and circled win game.
Taking that into account, Pitt will require more effort. The Panthers will actually make or break the early part of their season. September has two circled wins and a circled loss otherwise. If UT can get to October with a 3-1 record having beaten Pitt, the Bowling Green Falcons and the Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles while losing to the Florida Gators, they will be in good shape.
However, it will require an extraordinary effort to beat Pitt. Josh Heupel’s team will still be learning his systems on both sides of the ball, as it’s the second game of the year. For an unranked non-conference foe, this game is hugely important to Rocky Top.