With Butch Jones taking over at Tennessee, the Volunteers made fans happy by hiring a competent head coach to replace Derek Dooley. No, Vol fans, he isn't Jon Gruden, but he should have the Big Orange playing well soon. However, Year 1 could be tough. Tennessee's schedule is filled with games that were likely wins a few years ago, but are now toss-ups or likely losses.
2013 Tennessee schedule
Projections from Football Outsiders' 2013 college football almanac.
The Vols open up with a couple of cupcakes, which should result in a 2-0 record and some confidence. It's a good thing, because Tennessee travels to Eugene in Week 3 to face Oregon at Autzen Stadium. Yes, the Ducks are playing under a first-year head coach, too, but Mark Helfrich served as offensive coordinator under Chip Kelly, and the Oregon product should look pretty similar to what we've seen in recent years. That's bad news for UT.
Once SEC play begins, the victories could be few and far between. Opening the conference slate with four games against Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama -- with matchups against the Gators and Crimson Tide on the road -- probably means an 0-4 hole. A non-conference date against South Alabama should provide an easy win, but the Volunteers will have to make hay during the final month of the season.
Barring a surprise here or there, Tennessee will probably have five losses going into November, meaning a 3-1 mark will be necessary to reach a bowl game. A road game at Missouri won't be easy, but Jones' team really needs to win its final three games. The contest against Auburn is a toss-up, but it's at home, and no matter the state of Vanderbilt's program, if Tennessee football is going to be Tennessee football, the Vols have to beat the Commodores, especially in Neyland Stadium. And a loss in the season-finale at Kentucky would be a disaster.
The first two-thirds of the season could be rough; Tennessee will have an opportunity for a late-season push. The Volunteers just need to take advantage.