An overlooked storyline in Tennessee’s struggle to win games consistently the past few years has been the schedule. Tough non-conference opponents certainly played a role, but it might be the quality of crossover opponents from the SEC West that have, time and time again, contributed to Tennessee’s failure to reach winning records, bowl games and more on a consistent basis since 2011.
The Vols undoubtedly faced the most brutal West slate from 2011-14 of any team. Playing crossover rival Alabama certainly played a huge role in that, but the other crossover team UT has faced since 2011 has come into its game against UT as one of the hottest teams in the conference every single time since 2011.
Here are the records/rankings of the teams Tennessee has faced from the West since 2011 in the week leading up to the UT game in this eight-game span, all of which have led to two-possession or more losses for UT.
No. 2 Alabama: 7-0 (37-6 L)
No. 8 Arkansas: 8-1 (49-7 L)
No. 1 Alabama: 6-0 (44-13 L)
No. 19 MSU: 5-0 (41-31 L)
No. 1 Alabama: 7-0 (45-10 L)
No. 7 Auburn: 8-1 (55-23 L)
No. 3 Ole Miss: 6-0 (34-3 L)
No. 7 Alabama: 6-1 (34-20 L)
West opponents have been a combined 53-3 the week heading into the UT game since 2011 with an average AP ranking of No. 6. The results haven’t been pretty with those games ending in an average final score of 42.4-14.1 in favor of the West squad.
So while Arkansas (1-3, 0-1 SEC) certainly looked significantly better in a hard-fought 28-21 loss to Texas A&M last week than the Hogs did in losses to Toledo and Texas Tech, the Vols have to feel at least some relief from the SEC West brutality that’s been thrown their way the past few years. Arkansas comes into this contest with the same number of losses as the past eight West opponents had combined coming into UT week.
Nobody around Tennessee’s program is taking this game any less serious. A win is very much needed by both programs in this scenario. But at least for one West showdown in recent history, the Vols aren’t catching the best of the best.