Posted: 11:38 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013
Florida the third week in September (or in September at all)? Gone. Closing the season with Kentucky (admittedly a more recent tradition)? Gone. Playing Alabama before South Carolina? Back.
The 2014 football schedule has been released, and a lot has changed from Tennessee's normal pattern. The biggest change is the movement of Florida from mid-September to early October. The Vols have been complaining for years that the Florida game is too early, and if they played later in the season, Tennessee would fare better. That was certainly borne out in 2001, and we'll get a chance to see if it holds again in 2014, although a change to early October is certainly different from a change to early December. The tradeoff? Florida week is now immediately following Georgia week, which probably counterbalances any advantage to moving the game later.
The Vols will open with Utah State, Arkansas State, and Oklahoma (in Norman) in consecutive weeks before a September bye preceding Georgia and Florida. The fourth non-conference game will be against Chattanooga in mid-October, immediately prior to a three game swing against Ole Miss (in Oxford), Alabama (in Knoxville), and South Carolina (in Columbia).
The other major change will be moving Kentucky back from Thanksgiving week to mid-November. The Vols get a bye after South Carolina before hosting Kentucky and Missouri in consecutive weeks and, in a return to tradition, closing in Nashville against Vanderbilt.
We haven't even seen the 2013 football team yet, so it's hard to predict what the 2014 football team will look like, but we know the every single projected starter on the offensive and defensive lines is expected to leave after this season, so the Vols will have a major overhaul in the trenches. Despite Florida moving later, that overhaul will need to be completed quickly, as the Vols face three perennially ranked teams in their first five games However, the first of those is a non-conference game, so the first game that matters in the SEC standings is not until September 27.
Tennessee has also switched its bye week and non-conference cupcake, with the traditional mid-October bye taken by Chattanooga and a bye (instead of South Alabama. Or Akron. Or Buffalo) the week before Georgia.
The other point of note is the SEC West rotation, which takes the Vols to Oxford to face an Ole Miss team that will be one year further along in its rebuild than will Tennessee. This is a program that the Vols usually expect to beat and should be a barometer for how much Tennessee has improved in year two.
Other schedule factors: Florida gets a bye before Tennessee (but Alabama two weeks before), Georgia will play Troy in between South Carolina and the Vols, and Ole Miss, Alabama, and Missouri will all face the Vols off a game with Texas A&M.; South Carolina will be coming off a trip to Auburn, Kentucky off a game with Georgia, and Vanderbilt off a trip to Starkville.