Despite rebuilding as a program, Tennessee football is now under pressure to avoid being the one SEC team that fails to do something within the first two weeks of the season. That one thing is dominating an ACC team.
It’s no secret that last week was a horrible one for the ACC. The league went 6-6 in non-conference games, and that includes two losses to Group of Five schools. It went 0-4 against Power Five programs.
Included in that 0-4 record is an 0-3 record against the SEC. The Miami Hurricanes lost to the Alabama Crimson Tide, the Clemson Tigers lost to the Georgia Bulldogs and the Louisville Cardinals lost to the Ole Miss Rebels.
This week, there are two more SEC/ACC matchups: The N.C. State Wolfpack against the Mississippi State Bulldogs, and Tennessee football against the Pittsburgh Panthers. All of a sudden, the Vols have a lot riding on them.
Despite being underdogs, it would be an embarrassment for the SEC if Rocky Top was the only program to lose to an ACC school. Sure, MSU could lost to N.C. State, but given the inconsistencies of Mike Leach’s teams historically, struggling last week with the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs suggests they’ll blow out Dave Doeren’s team next week. That’s how his program operates.
Even if N.C. State does win, do the Vols want to be in a losing category with Mississippi State? When you look back at the history of the SEC, that would be a major indictment of how far the program has fallen over the years.
To make matters worse, UT and Mississippi State are the only two SEC teams that actually play their ACC foes at home. Alabama, Georgia and Ole Miss all won on neutral fields last week. Like the Vols, MSU is an underdog at home.
Of course, MSU losing to N.C. State would also be a bit more forgivable, as that’s a borderline top 25 program this year. Pitt could go to a bowl game, but nobody is considering them a potential top 25 contender. Pat Narduzzi consistently keeps them at a level just above mediocrity.
After this week, the only SEC-ACC matchup before the last weekend of the regular season will be the Missouri Tigers against the Boston College Eagles in Week 4. That’s another one that could go either way, but you could easily seeing Mizzou and MSU winning and then Tennessee football losing. At that point, they’d live with that embarrassment for the whole regular season.
They’d have company in the final week of games, as Clemson will beat the South Carolina Gamecocks then. However, Georgia will almost certainly beat the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, and the Florida Gators will almost certainly beat the Florida State Seminoles. Louisville against the Kentucky Wildcats is a toss-up.
However, there’s a way for Tennessee football to avoid that whole issue, and it involves beating Pitt this week. Relying on the Vols taking the best route to avoid humiliation, though, has not been a good strategy in recent history.