Tennessee Volunteers Schedule Analysis, Games 1-6

It’s here. Camp has broken and game preparations are underway. And there’s no place in college football where expectations are higher than in Knoxville. The Volunteer faithful have slogged through arguably the worst decade in school history. The end of the 2014 season and the emergence of Butch Jones as the caretaker of Tennessee football has given fans reason to think big again.

Tennessee is a popular dark-horse pick for SEC East Division winner. Some are even going so far as to consider the Volunteers as College Football Playoff contenders. Yet others still see Tennessee as one injury away from regressing back into mediocrity. What’s the reality? Let’s take a game-by-game look and break the season down.

2015 Tennessee Volunteers Schedule Analysis: Games 1-6

We’ll break this down in two parts. We’ll look at games one through six today and finish up with seven through twelve tomorrow. And don’t forget to review our season’s expectations article from last week here.

Game 1: Tennessee vs. Bowling Green (Nashville), September 5th

Bowling Green returns almost their entire offense and you can expect that they will take the time available in camp to scheme and plan against the Volunteers in the hopes of pulling of the huge upset. That won’t happen though. Expect Tennessee to rotate through several different personnel groupings, including multiple looks at receiver, middle linebacker, and defensive ends. Bowling Green’s defense lost their top four tacklers from a season ago, so expect the Tennessee offense to be conservative. A steady dose of Jalen Hurd, then some flashes of Alvin Kamara out of the backfield, and quarterback Josh Dobbs passing it to tight ends or utilizing posts or out routes from the receivers. Repeat. While this game won’t be flashy, Tennessee will have it in hand early – as long as the defense can consistently contain the Bowling Green offense – and then wear them down with the depth they’ve been missing for five years now. Tennessee 34, Bowling Green 21

Game 2: Oklahoma at Tennessee, September 12th

Finally, we got some questions answered. Tennessee and Oklahoma will square off in the home opener with a national audience looking at both teams to provide some answers. Oklahoma is looking to rebound off of a disappointing 2014 season and is hitching their star to quarterback Baker Mayfield. They also bring back a great running attack headed by running back Samaje Perine and center Ty Darlington. Tennessee will be forced to show all their cards before conference play starts. The biggest question here will be on the line. Can Tennessee’s offensive line handle Oklahoma’s blitzes and can the Vols’ defensive line handle the sustained pressure of the Oklahoma rushing attack. In the end, expect a great game that comes down to a late Sooners’ field goal for the difference. Oklahoma 34, Tennessee 31

Game 3: Western Carolina at Tennessee, September 19th

Sandwiched between a close loss to Oklahoma and a must-win trip to Florida, the Western Carolina Catamounts visit Neyland Stadium. The Catamounts are an FCS school and while they’re improving (2-10 in 2013, 7-5 in 2014) they can’t present a significant challenge to the Vols. They do have big game experience after playing at Alabama last year. Expect Butch Jones and his staff to use this game to fix any deficiencies from the first two games and lay the foundation for the Florida game plan. Another fundamentals-focused and conservative game plan for the most part, but also expect some aspects you might not expect just to give the Florida staff something to think about during the next week. Tennessee 56, Western Carolina 13

Game 4: Tennessee at Florida, September 26th

This the most important game on Tennessee’s schedule – and it’s not even close. The Vols are still a young team and a win in Gainesville will be of significant importance to the psychology of this team moving forward. A Tennessee win puts them at 3-1 early in the season; this is important because Tennessee has a history of starting slow. The early schedule Florida game has upset many Vols fans for years. Florida is going through a transition this year, with a new head coach, a new staff and a new offensive system. Tennessee must take advantage of this. And the Vols must end the decade long losing streak to the Gators. Tennessee let the Gators get away with one in Knoxville last year. Expect Butch Jones and company to be absolutely all-in in this game. Expect Florida’s defense to keep them in this game for a good portion, but I think this is the game where Tennessee finds its’ identity this season and gets a huge win on the road. Tennessee 26, Florida 17

Game 5: Arkansas at Tennessee, October 3rd

Both Arkansas and Tennessee are teams with high expectations coming into this season. Expect both teams to come into this game at 3-1. Tennessee will have to refocus after a big win against Florida and Arkansas will have to do the same after a disappointing loss to Texas A&M. This is a game that will be won or lost with Tennessee’s defensive line. Much like Oklahoma, Arkansas brings a huge, and experienced, offensive line and a relentless running attack into this game. If the Vols’ defensive line can sustain the constant pounding from the Hogs offensive line and keep the Arkansas running game in check, they Vols offense should be able to put a few points on the board in Neyland Stadium. I see the opposite of Oklahoma, where a late Tennessee score gives the Vols the win and tremendous momentum for the rest of the season. Tennessee 28, Arkansas 27

Game 6: Georgia at Tennessee, October 10th

Tennessee has played Georgia down to the last play the past two seasons and will likely come into this game after two big wins. Georgia, however, will likely travel to Knoxville after a home loss against Alabama. I don’t like the situation here. I think Georgia continues their winning ways against Tennessee as the Vols have a little bit of a let-down. They know, at 4-1, that they are on pace for expectations this year. They’ll come in a little banged up and might be looking ahead to the bye week and the game against Alabama after that. Expect the Bulldogs to be focused and the Vols to have a few lapses; special teams might win this game. Georgia also brings in another punishing running attack led by Nick Chubb and is the first defense that is able to stymy the Vol offense. Georgia 27, Tennessee 17

Tennessee’s bye week comes at the best possible time. Half way through the season, following Game Six and in front of Tennessee’s biggest rival, toughest game and stretch run.

At this point in the season, expect the Volunteers to have their identity: A high powered, execution-based offense and a bend-but-don’t-break defense that is strong on the defensive line and produces some turnovers. I see Tennessee at 4-2 at the break with expectations still sky high with an easier second-half of the season coming up for the Vols.

Check back tomorrow for a look at the second half of the season.

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