The Time Is Now: Tennessee Volunteers 2016 Schedule Analysis, Games 7-12

The Clock is Ticking

The first six games of Tennessee‘s season are about focus. The Vols will have to translate their talent into performance on the field. They will have to handle a level of pressure that hasn’t been around the program in a decade. Tennessee’s time to get out of the rebuilding phase and return to a level of national contention is now. Not next season, not in three seasons. We will know if they are on path by mid-season. If you haven’t read the analysis of the first six games, you can here.

The second half of the season will be about execution. Can Tennessee close out an expected campaign? Last year the Vols had trouble closing out games. This year experts expect more wins and at this point in the season the Vols will likely have one loss. Their challenge this year, in addition to finding focus, will be to finish out the season.

Here’s what to expect for the second half of the 2016 Tennessee Schedule.

Tennessee Volunteers 2016 Schedule Analysis: Games 7-12

Game 7: Alabama at Tennessee, October 15th

The second half starts off with the toughest opponent. The “Third Saturday In October”, now usually played on the fourth Saturday, is back to it’s traditional place on the calendar this year. Alabama is the final test in Tennessee’s crucial four game mid-season stretch of Florida, Georgia, Texas A&M, and Alabama. Most think Tennessee needs to go at least 2-2 in this stretch. At this point, expect Tennessee to be 5-1 with a tough loss at Georgia. Alabama has question marks at Quarterback, but no one is willing to question Nick Saban‘s ability to reload the Crimson Tide into a national title contender every year. Tennessee has closed the talent gap and they get an Alabama team that will be on the road for the second straight week. But this game comes at the end of a brutal stretch, and unless Tennessee is completely healthy, Alabama escapes Knoxville with their title hopes still in tact. This may not be the last time these two teams see each other this season. Alabama 20, Tennessee 17

alabama-tennessee-victory-cigars
Photo: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
Smoking a Victory Cigar is traditional for the winner of the annual Tennessee-Alabama rivalry game

Bye Week, October 22nd

Tennessee’s bye week comes at a very opportune time. They finish their four game stretch, get their mentally exhausting game with Florida out of the way early and their most physical test, Alabama, out of the way the week prior. Tennessee can rest up, make the necessary adjustments and go into their stretch run healthy. They will be favored in each game. As we said previously, the last five teams had a combined total of 14 FBS wins (average of 2.8/team) in 2015. The Vols should be sitting at 5-2. If they can close out strong, they should be in set for a run at the SEC East Division title.

Game 8: Tennessee at South Carolina, October 29th

Tennessee has had South Carolina‘s number the past few years. Which is refreshing, since it came at the expense of Steve Spurrier who tormented a generation of Tennessee fans while at Florida. Will the same be true in the Will Muschamp era in Columbia? The Gamecocks imploded last season and lost Pharoh Cooper, who single-handedly kept them in last season’s game, to the NFL. With Muschamp, you can expect the defense to be better, even if only returning five starters. But the Gamecocks are likely to start a freshman quarterback against a Tennessee defense that will attack relentless under new Defensive Coordinator Bob Shoop. The rough times for ex-Florida coaches in South Carolina. Tennessee 41, South Carolina 13

Game 9: Tennessee Tech at Tennessee, November 5th

The Golden Eagles fly into Knoxville with a new coach, a new offensive philosophy, and little more. Tennessee Tech went 4-7 last season with an FCS schedule, including a trouncing to the hands of the Houston Cougars. Tech gave up 490 yards/game on defense. Tech takes their lumps on this Saturday to fund other victories on other Saturdays. This one will be over early. Tennessee 62, Tennessee Tech 10

Game 10: Kentucky at Tennessee, November 12th 

Mark Stoops was hired at Kentucky only a few weeks before Butch Jones at Tennessee. Many Wildcat fans thought this was a turning point where Kentucky football could take the next step and challenge Tennessee, Florida and Georgia in the East. They saw their closest SEC rival, Tennessee on the downslope after the Kiffin/Dooley era and saw hope and promise in Stoops. The story has not quite played out like that. Kentucky has had two brutal late season collapses that prevented a bowl appearance in the past two seasons. They’ve won one game after October 15th in those two seasons (Charlotte, last season). And in both of those stretches Tennessee has posted half-a-hundred to take the Beer Barrel back to Knoxville. Bear Bryant ain’t walking in to that locker room, and it won’t be much different this season. Tennessee 42, Kentucky 23

Game 11: Missouri at Tennessee, November 19th

Second straight Division opponent. Third straight week at home. Fourth straight team that is coming off of a bad season. Barry Odom takes over a program that went from two-time division champion to a complete disaster last year. Missouri has already lost two players in the off-season to disciplinary issues. Missouri’s offense was atrocious last year. It should be somewhat better in 2016 as Drew Lock will enter his second season. But it won’t be good enough to challenge a Volunteers team that has momentum.  Tennessee 24, Missouri 16

Game 12: Tennessee at Vanderbilt, Nov. 26th

Tennessee expects to enter this game needing one last win to punch their ticket to Atlanta. Vanderbilt was one of four teams the Volunteer offense scored 50+ points against last year. Vanderbilt is in a similar situation as Missouri — teams hoping to find a pulse on offense to help support a fairly good defensive team. Is Kyle Shurmur the answer in Nashville? Or will this be another year that Rocky Top is the tune played in Music City? Tennessee has made it this far, and they close out the season on a high note. Tennessee 45, Vanderbilt 13

Season Prediction: 10-2, SEC East Champions

Time’s Up

Butch Jones has built momentum through recruiting top talent and increasing win totals. This is Jones’ fourth season on The Hill, though, and college football isn’t a patient environment. Building time is over, and Jones and company must start to deliver divisional championships. Is Jones on the hot seat? Not at all, barring a disastrous collapse. But he can’t sell top recruits on immediate playing time now and he can’t expect to return almost every starter from here on out. He’s going to have to win now — that’s his recruiting selling point and the way to continue momentum. Can the Vols turn the clock back to their glory days? Or is it about to hit midnight for the Big Orange? The time to find out is now.

TAMPA, FL – JANUARY 1:  Head coach Butch Jones against the Northwestern Wildcats during the Outback Bowl at Raymond James Stadium on January 1, 2016 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)