KNOXVILLE – Tennessee’s schedule got easier when Oklahoma was dropped as an opponent last week. The SEC made it harder on Friday.
The Vols picked up Auburn and Texas A&M when the league announced the new 10-game slate for each team. The revamped schedule consists solely of league teams.
Auburn was ranked No. 11 in the preseason Amway Coaches Poll while A&M was ranked No. 13.
The school presidents approved a shift last week to the conference-only format in the hopes of better managing the COVID-19 pandemic for all SEC schools. Non-conference opponents were dropped and the Vols’ lost their Sept. 12 date with the powerful Sooners in Norman, Okla.
The athletic directors then voted on several scheduling models, which led to the final product.
“We made every effort to create a schedule that is as competitive as possible and builds on the existing eight conference games that had already been scheduled for 2020,” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said in a league statement. “This schedule is a one-year anomaly that we have developed under unique circumstances presented by the impact of COVID-19.”
Dates for the games will be announced later. This much is certain at this point. The season will start Sept. 26. Tennessee will play Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Missouri and Texas A&M at Neyland Stadium. The Vols will travel to face Arkansas, Auburn, Georgia, South Carolina and Vanderbilt.
The Vols could look at their new schedule and consider it to be a little too competitive. Here’s guessing that many fans aren’t excited about the additions. The Vols already were going to play Alabama, Georgia and Florida, which they do every season. The two additions put five of the top 13 teams in the preseason coaches poll on their schedule.
By comparison, the Crimson Tide picked up Kentucky and Missouri. Fellow Eastern Division foe Georgia added Mississippi State and Arkansas.
Tennessee last played Texas A&M in 2016. The Vols overcame a deficit in regulation but lost in double-overtime 45-38 in College Station, Texas. UT coach Jeremy Pruitt coached on A&M coach Jimbo Fisher’s staff when Fisher was a Florida State. Pruitt hired running backs coach Jay Graham from the Aggies during the offseason. Texas A&M was 8-5 last season.
As UT’s coach, Pruitt has some history against Auburn. The Vols beat the then-No. 21 Tigers 30-24 in Auburn, Ala., in 2018. The victory snapped Tennessee’s 11-game conference losing streak, which spanned three seasons, and gave Pruitt his first victory over a ranked opponent. The Tigers were 9-3 last season.
Dan Fleser is a 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri, who covered University of Tennessee athletics from 1988-2019. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.