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Thursday, May 30, 2013
Schedule analysis: Tennessee

By Chris Low

There’s nothing easy about Butch Jones’ first schedule at Tennessee:

Nonconference opponents (with 2012 records)

Aug. 31: Austin Peay (2-9)
Sept. 7: Western Kentucky (7-6)
Sept. 14: at Oregon (12-1)
Sept. 28: South Alabama (2-11)

SEC home games

Oct. 5: Georgia
Oct. 19: South Carolina
Nov. 9: Auburn
Nov. 23: Vanderbilt

SEC road games

Sept. 21: at Florida
Oct. 26: at Alabama
Nov. 2: at Missouri
Nov. 30: at Kentucky

Gut-check time: In his third game as Tennessee's coach, Butch Jones gets the "pleasure" of taking his Vols to Autzen Stadium to face Oregon. Ouch! Going all the way across the country to play a football game that early in the season is always a daunting task. But given the way the Ducks scored points last season and the way the Vols gave up points, this one could get ugly before halftime. Oregon played in Knoxville in 2010, and routed Tennessee 48-13.

Trap game: The week before that Oregon trip, Tennessee faces Western Kentucky at home. The Hilltoppers have experience and depth, and they also have Bobby Petrino. The former Arkansas coach would love nothing more than to take down an SEC team on its own turf in his first season back in coaching.

Snoozer: Austin Peay's visit in the opener won't capture national headlines, but it will be Jones' debut as Tennessee's coach. The one that sticks out is South Alabama's visit on Sept. 28. Think there might be a few empty seats in Neyland Stadium for that one coming off back-to-back trips to Oregon and Florida?

Telltale stretch: Nobody in college football next season faces a tougher two-game stretch than what Tennessee does on Sept. 14 and Sept. 21. The Vols make the cross-country trek to Oregon only to hit the road for Florida the very next week. That's two games in two weeks in two of the toughest places to play in all of college football against two teams that will start the season in the top 10. What did Jones do to make the Vols' schedule-maker so mad?

Final analysis: Simply getting out of September in one piece will be the real challenge for Tennessee. Back-to-back trips to Oregon and Florida would beat down a lot of upper-echelon teams, and this is a Tennessee team that has a ton of question marks. It goes without saying that the Vols have to take care of business at home against Western Kentucky in that second game. If they come out of September with three losses, they might be looking at a 4-8 finish. By the same token, if they can avoid key injuries in that Oregon-Florida swing, win their three nonconference games in September and generate a little confidence, this is a team that could make a run for a bowl game. The month of November will be critical. After a trip to Missouri on Nov. 2, Tennessee comes back home to face Auburn. The Vols will need to win at least one of those games if they're going to have any chance of putting together their first winning season since 2009. They end with Vanderbilt and Kentucky, but have lost to one of those teams each of the past two seasons. The bottom line: Any time you face Alabama, Florida and Oregon on the road in the same season, you're in for some rough waters.