Tennesseee football practice, Oct. 2, 2012
Tennessee Stat Book
Tennessee coach Derek Dooley at the UT Quarterback Club
When the SEC finally gets around to firming up its 2013 football schedule, Tennessee can only hope it won't include four consecutive games against nationally ranked teams.
The Vols shouldn't be optimistic, though. There's no such thing as an easy schedule in the SEC. There's just tough and tougher. This stretch is especially taxing since Saturday's open date is the only thing between the Vols and four consecutive Saturdays against top-25 teams.
No matter how the new schedule shakes out, UT knows it will have to play East rivals Georgia, South Carolina and Florida — none of whom appear to be dropping out of the top 25 anytime soon. Its conference schedule is further exacerbated by having recurring powerhouse and current No. 1 Alabama as its permanent opponent from the West.
The relevant question regarding the new schedule isn't "Whom will you play?" It's "When will you play them?"
Every school in the conference is waiting on the answer.
SEC officials began working on a new long-term schedule after the spring meetings last June. More than three months later, they're still at it.
"The sooner the better for everybody," said Mark Womack, the conference's executive associate commissioner, when asked for a completion date.
The project hasn't been limited to SEC administrators. They confer with school officials, who provide input on their preferences.
"We may not be able to accommodate all of those things," Womack said.
But they're obviously giving it their best shot, which helps explain why it's taking so long.
October is a reminder that Tennessee could benefit from a change or two. By the end of the month, the Vols likely will have played 11 nationally ranked teams in October during a four-year stretch. In the other two months combined, they probably will play six nationally ranked opponents during the same period.
October is too brutal. September and November are too light, at least compared to October.
So maybe the Vols should be lobbying to play Vanderbilt in September and Florida in November. They also would be better served by playing Georgia in September — as they did this season — rather than in October. The rest of a best-case conference schedule would include Alabama and South Carolina in October with an open date in between, The Vols then could take a chance on their date with a rotating opponent from the West.
Moving the Florida game out of September would be more advantageous than ever next fall. The original 2013 schedule has the Vols playing at Oregon the second week of the season and playing at Florida in Week 3.
Autzen Stadium and The Swamp are two of the most hostile venues in the country. Moreover, Oregon and Florida, will return about two-thirds of their starters from teams currently ranked in the top 10.
If the new schedule leaves the Florida game where it is, perhaps Tennessee could do something about Game 2. Wonder how much the Ducks would take for a buyout?
The Vols could spin it as a move necessitated by the new SEC schedule.