Vols face a difficult slate of SEC games in 2019, while the non-conference schedule appears favorable
The Tennessee Volunteers faced some major obstacles during the 2018 season under first-year head coach Jeremy Pruitt. But none of those obstacles were more daunting than the Vols’ schedule, which featured one of the most brutal five-game stretches in all of college football last season.
Tennessee’s 2019 schedule won’t be a cakewalk either. After all, there’s no such thing as an easy schedule when you play in the SEC. And the Vols will be tasked with navigating their way through another particularly difficult five-game gauntlet in 2019, highlighted by road games against archrivals Florida and Alabama to go along with home matchups against Georgia, Mississippi State, and South Carolina.
The good news is that the 2019 schedule looks to be more forgiving overall in comparison to last season. The Vols should reap the benefits of playing eight games inside Neyland Stadium this season, as well as the SEC’s adoption of a second bye week for 2019. And unlike the last few seasons, there will be no neutral-site matchup against a dangerous Power 5 opponent for Tennessee to tackle. In fact, the Vols’ 2019 schedule doesn’t feature any Power 5 teams on the non-conference slate.
Tennessee Volunteers 2019 Schedule
Byes: Week 5, Week 12
Week 1 — Aug. 31 vs. Georgia State (Knoxville, Tenn.)
The Vols got quite a scare the last time they opened the season against an opponent from the Sun Belt Conference inside Neyland Stadium, narrowly escaping defeat against Appalachian State in a 20-13 overtime thriller in 2016. Fortunately, a Georgia State squad that only won two games last season doesn’t pose the same threat.
Week 2 — Sept. 7 vs. BYU (Knoxville, Tenn.)
Tennessee should have the edge at home in its first-ever meeting with BYU. However, this is easily the toughest non-conference matchup on the 2019 schedule, and the Vols would be ill-advised to take the Cougars lightly. Just ask the Wisconsin Badgers, who made the costly mistake of underestimating BYU at home last season en route to a 24-21 loss.
Week 3 — Sept. 14 vs. Chattanooga (Knoxville, Tenn.)
Life gets a little easier for the Volunteers in their third consecutive home game to start the 2019 season. FCS Chattanooga will serve as little more than a tune-up opponent for the Vols before hitting the road for the first time to open SEC play against arch-nemesis Florida.
Week 4 — Sept. 21 at Florida (Gainesville, Fla.)
The Volunteers will be in search of redemption in their first big road test of the season against SEC East foe Florida. Tennessee repeatedly shot itself in the foot in last season’s embarrassing 47-21 home loss to the rival Gators, turning the ball over six times. It will take error-free football this time around for the Vols to have a chance against a projected top-10 Florida squad in The Swamp, where they have not won since 2003.
Week 6 — Oct. 5 vs. Georgia (Knoxville, Tenn.)
The Vols are fortunate to get the week off before hosting division rival Georgia to kick off a tough October slate. Unfortunately, that provides no real advantage with the Bulldogs coming off a bye of their own. Tennessee may be able to glean a small edge by having former Georgia offensive coordinator Jim Chaney in the same role. That said, there’s a reason why the Bulldogs are once again favored to win the SEC East. It will take more than Chaney and home-field advantage for the Vols to overcome a fairly substantial talent gap.
Week 7 — Oct. 12 vs. Mississippi State (Knoxville, Tenn.)
Mississippi State will visit Knoxville for the first time since 2008 for an important cross-conference matchup between second-year head coaches. This will be a pivotal game for both teams, and it’s one that Tennessee really must win to avoid a potential four-game losing streak that could derail its entire season. The Vols should have a slight edge at home, but the Bulldogs will benefit from having a bye the week prior. It truly could go either way.
Week 8 — Oct. 19 at Alabama (Tuscaloosa, Ala.)
Jeremy Pruitt makes his first-ever trip to Tuscaloosa as an opposing head coach. Unfortunately, it could be a rude homecoming for the former Alabama assistant. Nick Saban boasts a perfect 12-0 record against Tennessee during his time at Bama to go along with a sparkling 16-0 mark against former assistant coaches. The Volunteers have not beaten the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa since 2003. And Bama is once again loaded with enough elite talent to make its annual run at the national title. To put it mildly, the Third Saturday in October is not looking particularly promising for Pruitt or the Vols.
Week 9 — Oct. 26 vs. South Carolina (Knoxville, Tenn.)
The Vols return to Rocky Top for a crucial SEC East contest against South Carolina. This has been one of most hotly-contested matchups in the SEC over the last few years, with each of the last seven contests decided by no more than six points. Unfortunately, Tennessee has been on the losing end in each of the last three. And Will Muschamp boasts an unblemished 7-0 record against Tennessee as a head coach (including his tenure at Florida). But as luck would have it, the Vols stand a very good chance of getting over the hump against a South Carolina team that could be a little worse for the wear after playing back-to-back games against Georgia and Florida before making the trip to Knoxville.
Week 10 — Nov. 2 vs. UAB (Knoxville, Tenn.)
Tennessee begins a critical stretch run in November at home against UAB, its final non-conference opponent of the season. The Blazers won 11 games last season and claimed the Conference USA championship, a near-miraculous feat considering that they were just two seasons removed from a two-year hiatus from football altogether. While UAB is expected to take a slight step back in 2019, the Vols would be remiss to completely write this off as an easy victory.
Week 11 — Nov. 9 at Kentucky (Lexington, Ky.)
Tennessee gets back on the road following a two-game homestand to face division rival Kentucky. The Vols lost in a 29-26 slugfest in their last trip to Lexington. But Tennessee was able to exact its revenge with a 24-7 drubbing of the No. 11-ranked Wildcats last season in Knoxville. Kentucky also is expected to take a step back in 2019 after losing key cogs Benny Snell Jr. and Josh Allen to the NFL, in addition to losing its entire starting secondary to graduation. However, the Wildcats do return enough talent to present the Vols with a formidable challenge.
Week 13 — Nov. 23 at Missouri (Columbia, Mo.)
The Vols have the luxury of a bye week before hitting the road again to face a Missouri squad that has scored back-to-back 50-17 victories against them. Mizzou does lose some serious firepower from last year’s team - most notably Drew Lock, Emanuel Hall, Terez Hall, and Terry Beckner. The Tigers also are dealing with a postseason ban that. if upheld, could impact team morale. That said, Missouri has the potential to be just as good in 2019 with Clemson transfer Kelly Bryant taking over at quarterback, along with several talented playmakers returning for the Tigers on both sides of the football. At a minimum, the Vols will have their work cut out for them this year in Columbia.
Week 14 — Nov. 30 vs. Vanderbilt (Knoxville, Tenn.)
Tennessee concludes its 2019 regular season in Knoxville with the annual end-of-season matchup against in-state foe Vanderbilt. For years, the Vols could chalk this up as a guaranteed win before the season even started. Many Tennessee fans still do, despite the fact that the Commodores have beaten the Vols three straight and five of the last seven meetings. This can no longer be considered a “gimme” for the Vols, and it’s as important as any game on the schedule this season. It’s also a must-win for Pruitt.
— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.