It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the Vols have played a difficult schedule to start the 2018 football season. But it might surprise some to learn that Tennessee’s schedule so far this year has been the second-toughest in all of college football.
According to Bill Connelly of SB Nation, the Vols have the No. 2 strength of schedule in all of college football this season. Only UCLA has a tougher schedule this season according to Connelly’s analysis using his S&P rankings.
So far this season, Tennessee has played four ranked opponents, and five of the eight opponents they’ve played this season have been ranked inside the top 10 of the AP Poll at some point this year. West Virginia, Florida, Georgia, and Alabama are all still currently ranked in the AP Poll, and all three are currently inside the top 15 of the poll. Auburn was ranked No. 21 at the time Tennessee played them.
Connelly’s S&P rankings has five of Tennessee’s first eight opponents ranked inside the top 25 of his rankings. Alabama (1st), Georgia (5th), Auburn (15th), West Virginia (16th), and Florida (18th) are all inside the top 20 of the S&P rankings. South Carolina, the team UT just played, ranks 52nd, and the Vols still have games upcoming against Missouri (27th) and Kentucky (29th).
Tennessee is currently 70th in the S&P rankings. Vanderbilt, the Vols’ opponent in the season finale, is ranked 74th.
Of the six toughest teams on Tennessee’s schedule this season so far, the Vols have only managed to defeat one of them, taking down Auburn 30-24 on the road. Tennessee was blown out by West Virginia, Florida, Georgia, and Alabama, and they just lost a nail-biter to South Carolina this past weekend.
Playing one of the toughest schedules in college football should be nothing new to Tennessee and Vol fans at this point. It seems like UT always has one of the most difficult strength of schedules in college football year in and year out. But for a program with a first-time head coach in a rebuilding year to face this type of schedule is especially brutal.
The Vols have played five teams inside the top 30 of Connelly’s S&P and will play two more before season’s end. That means over half of their games in 2018 will have been against “top 30” teams, at least according to these rankings.
For comparison, Florida’s strength of schedule according to the S&P rankings is 17th, Auburn’s is 23rd, Georgia’s is 46th, and Alabama’s is 68th.
Tennessee’s upcoming opponent this weekend, Charlotte, at least provides the Vols a reprieve from the daunting SEC schedule they’ve faced thus far. The 49ers are currently ranked 118th in the S&P rankings.
The Vols and 49ers will kick off at 4:00 PM Eastern on Saturday, November 3rd. Tennessee opened as a three touchdown favorite over Charlotte.