Here’s your first look at the full 2015 slate:
9/5 vs. UAB (in Nashville)
9/12 vs. Oklahoma
9/19 vs. Western Carolina
9/26 @ Florida
10/3 vs. Arkansas
10/10 vs. Georgia
10/24 @ Alabama
10/31 @ Kentucky
11/7 vs. South Carolina
11/14 vs. North Texas
11/21 @ Missouri
11/28 vs. Vanderbilt
• First off, my early impression is that the non-conference schedule doesn’t feel as daunting as the past couple years. The early-season matchup against perennial power Oklahoma obviously isn’t easy, but the Sooners will be coming to Knoxville in 2015 and will be replacing a lot, especially in the trenches. North Texas sits at 2-4 right now, the Vols should have little problem with FCS squad Western Carolina and UAB, though playing decently well at the moment with a 4-2 record, is a game in which the Vols should take care of business. There isn’t that one overwhelming non-conference matchup that feels like an automatic loss regardless of the circumstances as has been the case with the trips to Oregon and Oklahoma the past two years.
• After being bumped by Georgia this season, Florida returns as Tennessee’s SEC opener with a trip to Gainesville looming for the Vols on Sept. 26. We have no idea what the Gators will look like with Will Muschamp’s job status up in the air, but the Vols and Gators could be pretty even next year from a talent standpoint and that could help jump start one of those teams’ hopes to be in SEC East contention. A Halloween trip to Kentucky will mark the earliest the Vols have played the Wildcats in the modern era. That, again, will be no gimme with Kentucky improving.
• The Vols couldn’t have asked for much of a better bye week, with it coming on October 17th – exactly at the halfway point of the season. It also perfectly dissects a six-game run of SEC contests against Florida, Arkansas, Georgia, Alabama, Kentucky and South Carolina. And, perhaps most importantly, for many UT fans, it comes right before the Alabama game. Meanwhile, the Tide will have a three-game SEC stretch capped off by a trip to Texas A&M in the three weeks before facing the Vols.
• Heading into their matchup with Ole Miss this weekend, Vols’ opponents from the West have been an astonishing 47-2 entering their game with Tennessee since 2011. Is there some relief from the West onslaught coming next season? Maybe. Arkansas is clearly getting better under Bret Bielema, but there’s still a decent chance that the Razorbacks finish last in the SEC West this season. They could easily take a huge step next year. But Tennessee fnas would probably rather take their chances against them than somebody like Ole Miss or Auburn at this point.
• The always-changing SEC offers no guarantees, though the back end of the schedule has promise for the Vols. The final five games – Kentucky, South Carolina, North Texas, Missouri and Vanderbilt – all feature teams that the Vols would be considered large favorites over at this point, or, at the very least, teams that the Vols have played competitively with in recent seasons.