Tennessee will play 10 SEC football opponents this season.
That much we know. What we don’t know is which two additional teams from the SEC West will be added to the Vols’ schedule. The SEC athletics directors are working to devise schedules for the league under the revised format.
The new opponents will join Tennessee’s list of opponents that includes SEC East foes, plus Alabama and Arkansas.
Here are two teams from the SEC West that the Vols want to see added to the schedule, and two they should want to avoid.
Put them on the schedule
Tennessee lost a marquee matchup at Oklahoma when the non-conference schedule was scrapped in favor of this 10-game, SEC-only plan.
Rather than simply hope to draw the West’s most beatable opponents, the Vols should welcome the opportunity for another chance at a Top 25 win.
Auburn would be a fun draw.
Veteran Vols fans remember this as a rivalry game. Tennessee and Auburn played annually each year from 1956-91, until SEC expansion caused the teams to square off less frequently.
Tennessee isn’t scheduled to play Auburn again until 2025. Why wait that long to renew the rivalry?
Auburn was the site of what remains coach Jeremy Pruitt’s most impressive victory. The Vols beat the Tigers, ranked No. 21, 30-24 in Auburn on Oct. 13, 2018.
A game against Auburn would feature two teams that seem fairly matched. Athlon ranked Auburn No. 13 in its preseason rankings. The magazine put Tennessee at No. 26.
Auburn sustained significant losses along the offensive and defensive lines, so Tennessee duplicating its 2018 triumph isn’t far-fetched.
Fans might be bored with this matchup because Tennessee played the Bulldogs last season, prevailing 20-10 at Neyland Stadium.
But first-year Mississippi State coach Mike Leach would provide a fresh look to a potential rematch. Leach is known for his pass-heavy offenses, and he added Stanford graduate transfer quarterback K.J. Costello.
The game would pit Pruitt against Leach, the coach whom former athletics director John Currie tried to hire in 2017 before Currie was fired and replaced by Phillip Fulmer.
Fulmer tapped Pruitt for the job, and Leach coached one more season at Washington State before following through with an exit to the SEC.
Tennessee likely would be favored to win this game. That would help Tennessee’s chances of finishing above .500, despite that a schedule that already includes Alabama, Georgia and Florida.
Leave them off the schedule
The Vols are scheduled to host the Rebels in 2021. Leave that game where it is, offering the better possibility of a full crowd at Neyland Stadium getting the chance to give a proper welcome to Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin. Rolling the game forward could mean that Kiffin gets off easy, if Tennessee restricts capacity at Neyland Stadium.
Plus, why risk losing to Kiffin in his first season? He’d turn that into fuel on the recruiting trail. Battling Kiffin for Memphis-area recruits already figures to be enough of a challenge. Don’t give him the chance to boost his sales pitch.
The optics of two teams located 935 miles apart playing in the midst of a pandemic are not ideal, especially after Tennessee canceled home games against regional foes Charlotte, Furman and Troy.
Beyond that, the Aggies are flying under the radar as a team that could make some real noise.
The Aggies returned a bulk of their starters from last year’s 8-5 squad. That continuity includes the return of coach Jimbo Fisher, coordinators Darrell Dickey and Mike Elko and quarterback Kellen Mond, who will be a four-year starter.
Add up the limited history between these teams, the difficulty of the matchup and the long trip, and there’s no good reason for Tennessee to want the Aggies on its schedule.
Blake Toppmeyer covers University of Tennessee football. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer. If you enjoy Blake’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it. Current subscribers can click here to join Blake’s subscriber-only text group offering updates and analysis on Vols football.