The 2014 Amway Coaches Poll was released today and, if the coaches are correct, the Vols will face another brutal schedule. Tennessee has road games at No. 3 Oklahoma (Sept. 13th), No. 9 South Carolina (Nov. 1st), No. 12 Georgia (Sept. 27th) and No. 19 Ole Miss (Oct. 18th). The Vols also host No. 2 Alabama (Oct. 25th) giving them a total of five games against the preseason top-19.
When it comes to ranking schedules, everyone has a slightly different method. The NCAA ranks them by opponent winning percentages the previous season. Tennessee’s 2014 opponents went 101-54 last season (65.16%), making UT’s 2014 schedule the third-toughest nationally. For comparison, Alabama’s opponents went 71-79 (47.33%) which ranks their 2014 slate of games 95th in the nation and last in the SEC.
These rankings aren’t perfect, of course, but they do give you a good idea of the road ahead. Tennessee 2013 opponents went on to win 66.7% of their games that season, ranking their schedule as the second toughest in the country per the NCAA. In fact, of the teams that played top-10 schedules last season, only three made it to postseason play (Georgia, Auburn and Mississippi State).
BCS National Champion Florida State’s 2013 schedule ranked right in the middle of the pack, 62nd per Jeff Sagarin, but that didn’t stop them from earning a championship game berth and ultimately winning a ring. You have to go back to 2009 to find a champion that played a top-10 schedule – Alabama’s ranked second per Sagarin in 2009.
What does this mean for Tennessee moving forward? Their schedule ranks among the toughest in the nation, again. Preseason No. 1 Florida State? Their schedule comes in at 47th. No. 2 Alabama’s ranks 95th and No. 3 Oklahoma’s ranks 93rd. The teams who expect to compete for a spot in the new College Football Playoff aren’t playing difficult schedules, but the Vols, and several other programs struggling to get back to a bowl (Arkansas, Kentucky, Virginia, etc), face a brutal slate of games.
If the current powers in college football aren’t playing difficult schedules, why should the Vols? The “we’ll play anyone, anytime, anywhere” mentality is understandable, but Tennessee’s roster just can’t back up that sentiment. If you don’t believe that, look at their 15-21 record over the last three years. Would it have been better for the Vols to schedule a gimme game and earn a bowl bid last season instead of getting demolished at Oregon? The answer is obvious.
While championship-caliber teams continue to play subpar schedules, the Vols will face a road worthy of a champion. For Tennessee to get back into the championship hunt, they’ll have to conquer a schedule full of tests and get back to a bowl this season.
Strength of schedule? It’s overrated. Especially for a team in Tennessee’s position where wins matter much more than who they come against.