Tennessee has faced one of the toughest schedules in the nation through seven games.
The Vols have put together a respectable 5-2 (2-2 SEC) mark to this point, but the numbers show a dramatic shift coming in terms of quality of opponent.
Tennessee’s first seven opponents – Appalachian State, Virginia Tech, Ohio, Florida, Georgia, Texas A&M and Alabama – have combined for a 38-12 (76%) record this season through Week 8 on the schedule. Take out the seven games those opponents played against UT, and that mark improves to 36-7. UT’s four SEC foes thus far have been great in conference as well, posting a 14-5 SEC record.
Over the next five weeks, UT will face South Carolina, Tennessee Tech, Kentucky, Missouri and Vanderbilt. Those five teams have combined for a 16-21 (43.2%) overall record, with the four SEC teams coming in at 5-12 in conference play.
The difference can be seen in the stat columns as well.
While Mizzou comes in No. 1 in the conference in total offense (a total largely aided by some massive non-conference game stats), UT’s other three SEC foes – Kentucky, South Carolina and Vanderbilt – are the bottom three teams in the league in total offense. And despite defensive-minded head coaches at all four of those schools, South Carolina (7), Vanderbilt (8), Kentucky (9) and Missouri (14) all find themselves either in the middle, or towards the bottom, of the SEC in total defense.
The Vols faced three of the top five SEC defenses, and three of the top six SEC offenses, in their first four SEC games.
Though UT has shown a propensity to play down to virtually any opponent this year, the numbers very clearly point to a significantly more manageable final stretch for the Vols. Tennessee’s had its share of injuries and adversity through seven weeks, but there shouldn’t be many excuses over the course of the final five.
To get to Atlanta, the Vols need to win out in SEC play and have Florida lose just one conference game against Georgia, South Carolina, LSU or Arkansas. If the Gators drop one, Tennessee will have nobody to blame but itself if it can’t get the job done.
How UT’s opponents have fared this year:
Appalachian State (5-2)
Virginia Tech (5-2)
Florida (5-1, 3-1 SEC)
Georgia (4-3, 2-3 SEC)
Texas A&M (6-1, 4-1 SEC)
Alabama (8-0, 5-0 SEC)
South Carolina (3-4, 1-4 SEC)
Tennessee Tech (3-5)
Kentucky (4-3, 3-2 SEC)
Missouri (2-5, 0-3 SEC)
Vandy (4-4, 1-3 SEC)