Football season is just around the corner, and it wonít be long before the Volunteers are racing on the Sheilds-Watkins Field on September 1. As many of you probably know, Tennessee has a lot of hype surrounding its football program for the 2016 season. The Vols were recently picked to win the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division at SEC Media Days.
One reason for this is that Tennessee returns nine starters on offense and eight on defense. Seventeen returning starters! Experience should not be an issue with this team. Last year the Big Orange finished 9-4 and won their last 6 games including a 45-6 thrashing of Northwestern in the Outback Bowl. Senior leadership from Joshua Dobbs, Jalen Reeves-Maybin and Cameron Sutton should play a big role if Tennessee is to have a big season.
Appalachain State- September 1
The Vols open the 2016 campaign at home on a Thursday night against Appalachian State. The Mountaineers went 11-2 last season in their first season at the FBS level. They return 15 starters including their quarterback and running back. And Iím sure everyone remembers their upset victory over Michigan in the Big House, but I donít think we have anything to worry about.
Virginia Tech- September 10
Fans have been lobbying for this game for years and it has finally come to fruition. Smack dab between the University of Tennessee and Virginia Tech is Bristol Motor Speedway. The Last Great Colosseum will play host to the ďBattle at BristolĒ. Tech will be breaking in new head coach, Justin Fuente who comes over from Memphis to take over for the legendary Frank Beamer. The Hokies will also have a new quarterback. How long will it take for Fuente to get his message across? Will Fuente carry over his high powered offense? I donít see it happening against this Volunteer defense that is sure to be tough.
Ohio- September 17
The Bobcats finished last season with an 8-5 record. Ohio knocked off Idaho and upset Marshall at home, but donít look for the Bobcats to put up much of a fight in Neyland. This will be more of a tune up for next week.
Florida- September 24
The Gators come to Knoxville in what is sure to be a game that is circled on the calendar for everyone associated with Tennessee football. We all know that Tennessee has not beaten Florida since 2004. Florida cornerback Jalen Tabor has had a lot to say about the Vols this offseason; discussing the streak as well as Tennessee running back Jalen Hurd. This game can make or break Tennesseeís season. Can the Vols get the gorilla off of their backs? Usually when a team ends a streak, it is not pretty. In 1995 Tennessee had not beaten Alabama in 10 years. The Vols won that game 41-14. Iíve said that I would not pick the Vols to beat Florida until I see it happen. With that said I am going to pick the Vols to win only because I think Tennessee will have a great season and there is no way that can happen if Tennessee loses to Florida.
Georgia- October 1
The Vols beat the Bulldogs last year for the first time since 2009. Georgia has a new coach in Kirby Smart, who returns to his alma mater after spending nearly 10 years with Nick Saban at Alabama. This the second of a murderous four game stretch. Georgiaís strength is their running game. Nick Chubb and Sony Michel will look to pound the rock. Can Tennessee stop the run? And how will freshman QB Jacob Eason fair? This will be a close one, but I think the Vols come up just a bit short.
Texas A&M- October 8
Tennessee travels to College Station to take on the Aggies. This will be the first time these teams square off as SEC foes and the first time they will face off in the regular season. A&M has some great pass rushers in Daeshon Hall and Myles Garrett. DC John Chavis should have more of his defense in place in his second year. On offense, Oklahoma QB transfer Trevor Knight will lead the Aggies and look to get the ball to their play makers on the edge, Speedy Noil and Christian Kirk. For the Volunteers, they will be looking for a little bit of revenge against Knight, who was the OU starter in í14 when the Vols took a beating at the hands of the Sooners in Norman. The Aggies have started each of the last two seasons 5-0 before going off the rails. Tennessee is the sixth game on the schedule for the Aggies, and I think the Vols win this one on the road.
Alabama- October 15
The Third Saturday in October. Tennessee and Alabama. The Two most storied programs in the Southeastern Conference. Last year Tennessee led 14-13 with a little over 5 minutes to go in the game in Tuscaloosa. The Vols definitely had a chance to win that game but lost to the eventual National Champs. Alabama reloads every year. Another stud running back will likely step right in the spot left by Derrick Henry. Will the Volunteers be able to defeat the Crimson Tide for the first time since 2006? Iím not sure, but I do know that we match up very well with Alabama and it should be a great game in Neyland. If youíre putting a gun to my head to make a decision however, Iím picking the Tide.
South Carolina- October 29
After a much needed bye week, Tennessee goes to Columbia, South Carolina to take on the Gamecocks. Will Muschamp is tasked with replacing the ďHead Ball CoachĒ, Steve Spurrier, the winningest coach in South Carolina history. There isnít much talent at South Carolina right now. Just a few years ago SC was the top dog in that state, but now Clemson has claimed that spot.
Tennesseeís schedule is front loaded for sure. Of the five teams the Vols close the season out with, not one finished with a record better than 5-7 last season. I think Tennessee wins this game easily on the road.
Tennessee Tech- November 5- Homecoming
Not much to say about this game. But it is homecoming! Homecoming is a special week. And the pageantry of an SEC football Saturday is ramped up even more. UT is 5-0 against Tennessee Tech but the last meeting was in 1951. Vols win BIG!
Kentucky- November 12
Itís do or die time for Mark Stoops who is 12-24 after 3 seasons at Kentucky. The Cats have had great chances to go to a bowl game each of the last two season but failed to do so. Kentucky returns to Knoxville, a place the Wildcats havenít won since 1984. Donít look for much to change. Tennessee just has too much talent for Kentucky to keep up. And the last two games against Kentucky havenít even been close.
Missouri- November 19
Barry Odom takes over for Gary Pinkel. Odom will not have an easy job either. We have all read the stories about the riots and hunger strikes that have given the University of Missouri a bad name. It has taken its effect on the athletic department as well. Missouriís athletic director and interim AD both left for other jobs. Missouri does have talent however. Young QB Drew Lock looked impressive in the few starts he had last season, which gives Tiger fans something to cheer about and the defensive line should be around the same level we have seen in recent years. Tennessee has not beaten Missouri in Knoxville, but I look for that to change this season.
Vanderbilt- November 26
Tennessee heads west to Nashville to take on the Commodores in the regular season finale. I think Derek Mason will take his team to the next level this year and get them to a bowl game, but I donít see them beating the Volunteers. Tennessee just has too much talent on its roster.
I have the Volunteers winning 10 games and playing in Atlanta against Alabama in what would be the 100th meeting between these two schools, and the first in the SEC Championship game. This should definitely be a very fun season. Thanks for reading and if you enjoyed this be sure to spread the word.
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