My opinion on open dates isn't what it used to be.
Old opinion: Schedule an open date the week before your best opponent.
New opinion: Schedule an open date the week after your best patsy.
The change of opinion is three years in the making. I can give you an exact date when my belief was first shaken: Nov. 8, 2008. You might remember that as the day Wyoming turned Rocky Top upside down.
It was bad enough that the Vols already knew they were losing their longtime coach, Phillip Fulmer. The damage was compounded by a loss to a Wyoming team on its way to a 5-7 season and only a couple of weeks removed from a five-game losing streak in which it was outscored by 177 points.
How much worse could it get?
The answer would come in the next two weeks during which fans and media had way too much time to sort through the rubble of one of the most embarrassing losses in school history.
Losing is bad. Losing the week before an open date is worse, because the defeat is analyzed and reanalyzed.
That's how it went last year after Tennessee stumbled into its open-date week with a 41-14 loss to Georgia. Every shortcoming was scrutinized in such exquisite detail over the next two weeks, you might have deemed the Vols incapable of running on to the field against Alabama.
My new open-date philosophy was solidified last week after UT's loss to Florida.
The postgame critique is just past the halfway mark, and — as you might have noticed — UT isn't faring well. Its most glaring weakness has become an ongoing debate.
"They can't block," says one fan.
"They can't tackle," says another.
"Why can't we run the ball?" asks one fan.
"Why are our special teams so bad?" asks another.
The criticism would have been as harsh if the Vols had played a game this weekend. But it wouldn't have lasted as long.
The open-date week went as slow as the Vols in pursuit of Chris Rainey. In fact, it dragged on so long, you might have forgotten that the season seemed promising as recently as September 16. For the first time in a long time, UT fans actually were looking forward to the Florida game.
By the time Tennessee plays Buffalo on Saturday, its fans will have had two weeks to look back on Florida. That's two weeks too long.
No team is as bad as two weeks of criticism would suggest. The Vols lost a game to a nationally ranked team by 10 points and lost perhaps their best player, wide receiver Justin Hunter, to a season-ending knee injury. But all is not lost.
Quarterback Tyler Bray still leads the SEC in passing. Kentucky is still on the schedule. And maybe, the Vols have learned a lesson.
You don't schedule your easiest game for the opener or homecoming. You schedule it before your open date.