Tennessee football heads to Atlanta for SEC Media Days on Thursday and begins fall camp on Aug. 1 — less than two weeks from today. While the summer keeps chugging on, football is coming and will be here soon.
Let’s take a look at Tennessee’s 12-game 2022 schedule, ranking the games in order of importance.
12. versus UT-Martin, Oct. 22
Tennessee hosts the Skyhawks of UT-Martin for homecoming on the fourth Saturday of October. UT-Martin won the Ohio Valley Conference a season ago, making it to the second round of the FCS Championship before losing to Montana State.
Still, UT-Martin is an FCS program and one the Vols should take care of with ease.
11. versus Akron, Sept. 17
Tennessee hosts Akron the third week of the season at 7 p.m. ET. The matchup is between critical games at Pitt and against Florida.
Still, Akron was one of the worst teams in the MAC a season ago, posting a 2-10 record. The Vols should make easy work of the Zips.
10. versus Ball State, Sept. 1
Tennessee opens up Josh Heupel’s second season on the first day of September with a 7 p.m. ET matchup against Ball State.
Ball State is the most important of the Vols’ three “buy games” for a pair of reasons. First, it’s the season opener and should attract some national eyeballs as a Thursday night game.
9. at Vanderbilt, Nov. 26
The easiest game on Tennessee’s SEC schedule, the Vols should take easy care of Vanderbilt. The Commodores were dreadful a season ago and there’s little evidence for a big second year jump for Clark Lea’s program.
Expect Tennessee fans to paint Commodore Stadium orange for the regular-season finale Thanksgiving weekend.
8. versus Missouri, Nov. 12
Tennessee is looking for it fourth straight win over Missouri after decimating the Tigers in Columbia a season ago. After a strong opening season in 2020, Missouri limped its way to 6-6 and a bowl berth in Eliah Drinkwitz second season before falling to Army in the Armed Forces Bowl.
Missouri lost its five conference games by an average of 24 points and won its three conference games by four points.
The Tigers have two major question marks entering the season. Can the defense improve on a dreadful 2021 season with first year defensive coordinator Blake Baker? What does Missouri get at quarterback after 2021 starter Connor Bazelak transferred and the Tigers’ struck out in transfer market?
Tennessee’s final home game is important to continue its recent dominance over Missouri, but the Tigers don’t present near the threat that other SEC east foes do.
7. versus Alabama, Oct. 15
A strong first five weeks of the season could elevate this game up the list, but in the preseason Tennessee’s path to victory is very slim against the Crimson Tide.
Alabama returns stars Bryce Young and Will Anderson and is poised to have the best team in the country. The Vols have a better chance to beat Alabama than they have most years in the last decade. However, victory is still unlikely.
More From RTI: Tennessee Schedule Breakdown Podcast
6. at Georgia, Nov. 5
Put Georgia in the same category as Alabama. If the Vols exceed expectations, this game skyrockets up the list. However, victory still appears unlikely against the defending National Champions.
Georgia is higher on the list than Alabama for two reasons. First, even going on the road I believe this game is more winnable than the Alabama matchup.
Let’s theorize for the second point. Say Tennessee has a spectacular season and beats teams one through five on this list. A loss to Alabama wouldn’t eliminate Tennessee from the SEC east race. If the Vols lost to the Crimson Tide and beat Georgia then they would still be in the drivers seat.
If Tennessee beats Alabama and loses in Athens they’re hoping someone else can upset the Bulldogs.
5. at Pittsburgh, Sept. 10
There’s a real argument to be made that this game should be higher on the list. A week two road win would avenge last season’s loss and more importantly give Tennessee a fantastic chance to open the season 4-0 and turn heads nationally.
This game is as close to a toss up as any on Tennessee’s schedule, however, the four games ahead of it are conference games that can go either way and will have more longterm ramifications on the success of the season.
4. at South Carolina, Nov. 19
Tennessee heads to Columbia for its latest matchup against South Carolina since World War II. This game is extremely difficult to project due to how late it is in the schedule but it is extremely important.
South Carolina closed the 2021 season strong with wins over spiraling Florida and Auburn to reach bowl eligibility. Oklahoma transfer quarterback Spencer Rattler gives South Carolina a much higher potential and a massive question mark after his inconsistent play for the Sooners.
Shane Beamer and Josh Heupel split the the Steve Spurrier First Year Coach award a season ago despite Tennessee’s blowout win of the Gamecocks. A second win over South Carolina would further elevate Heupel’s programs over the Gamecocks.
3. at Louisiana State, Oct. 8
Tennessee heads to Baton Rouge for the first time since the infamous 13-men on the field game in 2010 — Derek Dooley’s first season in Knoxville.
This time it’s LSU undergoing turmoil. Brian Kelly is taking over for Ed Orgeron and the Tigers have plenty of question marks after a tumultuous past two seasons.
Still there’s plenty of talent in Baton Rouge and a road win would send major shockwaves throughout the SEC.
2. versus Kentucky, Oct. 29
Tennessee’s best win a season ago was the back-and-forth victory over the Wildcats in Lexington. While Kentucky loses plenty of talent off last year’s team, the Wildcats have clearly asserted themselves as the best program amongst South Carolina, Missouri and Vanderbilt.
The Vols need to continue to keep themselves above Kentucky as Heupel rebuild’s the program. A second straight win would go a long way.
With the game taking place at Neyland Stadium, I think this game is an easier contest than LSU, South Carolina or Pitt. That doesn’t make the matchup any less important.
1. versus Florida, Sept. 24
It has always been Gators.
Florida has plagued Tennessee over the last 15 years with the Vols win on Sept. 24, 2016 being their only one against the SEC rival since 2004.
The Gators are more vulnerable than they’ve been in years under first year head coach Billy Napier. Quarterback Anthony Richardson has a sky-high ceiling but there are questions around the rest of Florida’s roster.
Nothing would go further to improving Heupel’s approval rating in Knoxville than a win over the Gators.