With college sports on a break, everyone starts looking forward to this fall, and on Rocky Top that means the third year on the Jeremy Pruitt era for the Tennessee football.
While every regular season game is technically as important as the other 11, it is no secret that for fans and players alike some matchups mean more than others. With that in mind, here are the Vols’ upcoming games for fall 2020 ranked from 12 to 1, least important to most important.
12. vs Troy (Nov. 21)
If Tennessee’s season goes as expected this game won’t mean much for the Vols. Falling in week 12, a time when the majority of the SEC plays tune-ups games before rivalry week, this game should not worry Tennessee fans unless the teams stumbles early. In that case, the Vols will need to take care of business in this matchup for postseason purposes.
11. vs Furman (Sept. 19)
Again, this game is another week that should be an easy win for Tennessee. What makes this game more important than Troy is when it comes in the calendar. Because this game comes early in the schedule, the Vols can use a win here to get positive momentum before starting SEC play the next week.
10. vs Charlotte (Sept. 5)
Starting off the top ten is the 49ers from Charlotte, the most important of the so-called ‘guarantee games’ on Tennessee’s schedule. As this matchup starts off the season, the Vols can ill-afford to start off their season with another embarrassment like this past year’s loss to Georgia State.
9. at Arkansas (Oct. 31)
The Razorbacks are coming off a rough three years where they went 1-23 in SEC play with their last conference win coming in 2017. Arkansas fans have had a tough couple year but they think they have found the man to lead them of their struggles. New head coach Sam Pittman is known as one of the top offensive line coaches in the nation so expect a physical game in the trenches.
8. vs Missouri (Oct. 3)
The Tigers have been a tough matchup for the Vols, as the two teams have split the past four games 2-2. Last year featured a pass heavy game on both sides, but Missouri will have a new quarterback this year. While Tennessee may or may not have a new quarterback, they will be without their top two receivers from last year.
7. at South Carolina (Oct. 10)
Games against the Gamecocks have been very close in the past few years, and last season the game seemed to be a springboard game for the Vols as they fought for bowl eligibility after their poor start. Another thing to watch is that it seems Will Muschamp stays on the hot-seat and will view Tennessee as key winnable game for his team.
6. at Oklahoma (Sept. 12)
The most important game of the non-conference schedule for the Vols will no doubt be against the Sooners. The first game of this home and home saw Baker Mayfield stun lead an overtime comeback win in Neyland in 2015 and Tennessee will be looking to repay the favor in Oklahoma. Also, this game will provide an early litmus test to however is the Vols’ starting quarterback this season.
5. vs Kentucky (Nov. 7)
While more one-side than the basketball series with the Wildcats, this is a strong rivalry on both sides in football as well. In the same way that the Egg Bowl is known as arguably the rivalry with the most hate, not the most intensity, the Battle for the Beer Barrel has more vitriol than most rivalries. Add to that the closeness in recent matchups, this is positioned to highly contested game as both Tennessee and Kentucky are on the rise.
4. at Vanderbilt (Nov. 28)
This rivalry is more important for the Commodore fanbase but that doesn’t mean that the Vols don’t care about this game, it just means Tennessee views this as a game they are supposed to win. This will be an important game for a Pruitt staff that wants to re-establish its control over the state and start a streak of its own after a period of Vanderbilt rule in this rivalry. Also notable is that the Vols have not won in Nashville since 2014 and haven’t won consecutive games in Nashville since 2008 and 2010.
3. vs Alabama (Oct. 24)
Featuring the two most successful teams in SEC, this will always be one of the more highly anticipated games on Tennessee’s schedule. Together the Vols and Crimson Tide combine for 40 SEC Championships and claim 23 National Championships, of which 14 were awarded by major selectors. After a disappointing year by Alabama and Tennessee on the rise, the Vols could have a legitimate shot at breaking the streak this year.
2. vs Florida (Sept. 26)
As one of the top two teams in the SEC East, the Gators are an important target for Tennessee. If the Vols want a shot at the SEC championship game they will have to beat at least one, probably two, of the SEC East’s top two powers. Florida will probably be the tougher team for Tennessee to beat this year. Dan Mullen has his team on a trajectory to be a possible national title contender this season.
1. at Georgia (Nov. 14)
The most important game of the Vols’ season is in Sanford Stadium against the Bulldogs. Georgia could be Tennessee’s best chance to get signature win within its division. The Bulldogs have suffered high turnover in the past offseason. The most notable of these being departure of Jake From to the NFL and Cade Mays to the Vols, as well as losing offensive line coach Sam Pittman to Arkansas. How new transfer quarterback Jaime Newman fits in to the Georgia offense will be key to this matchup. Add to it all, as Tennessee was playing well against the Bulldogs in the first half last year, the circumstances since last season will make this a very winnable game for the Vols.