In a little more than a month, Butch Jones will open his Tennessee football coaching era against Austin Peay and Western Kentucky.
In 1977, Johnny Majors opened his UT coaching era against California and Boston College.
Then after he played Auburn, Majors got Oregon State and Georgia Tech.
Why dig up ancient history?
To point out how scheduling has evolved — and to ponder what direction it might go now that change for college football appears to be just around the corner.
During the recent spate of media days, the rhetoric from the various commissioners suggests the five remaining power conferences are close to breaking off into their own division.
In 2014, the SEC, ACC, Pac 12, Big Ten and Big 12 will account for 64 teams, about half of the Football Bowl Subdivision.
The big boys want to play by their own rules when it comes to revenue and budgets. Alabama coach Nick Saban is telling anyone who’ll listen that maybe the Power Five — P5 for short — ought to exclusively schedule each other.
In other words, Saban is saying, no more Austin Peay, Western Kentucky or South Alabama. No more Memphis. No more Middle Tennessee State.
Season-ticket buyers ought to stand up and applaud. The cost of attending games has escalated, but the quality of the product hasn’t.
Well, maybe some think beating UT Martin 50-0 or Georgia State 51-13 is a quality product. I don’t. Saban doesn’t, either.
Depending on whether teams play nine or eight conference games in 2013, they had three or four non-conference games to schedule.
Of the 64 P5 teams, a mere 13 are playing at least two other P5 non-conference opponents. That’s counting independents Notre Dame and BYU as power opponents.
Tennessee is running with the pack in offering its fans one P5 game. They just have to fly three time zones to Oregon to see it.
Eleven schools aren’t playing a single P5 opponent out of conference. That includes Texas A&M, a preseason top-10 pick.
The last time the Vols scheduled two P5 opponents in the same season was all the way back in 2003.
In 17 of 19 years from 1970 to 1988, the Vols scheduled at least three teams that are now in P5 conferences.
In seven of those years, they played four.
Three other times, the Vols played five — five! — games against current P5 schools.
In 1987, UT took on Iowa, California, Georgia Tech, Boston College and Louisville. The Vols went 4-1 against them and finished 10-2-1.
Ah, there were only six SEC games in those days. There are eight now and it might go to nine in a couple of years.
Therein lies the favorite argument for hauling Buffalo to town. Hey, we’re battered like a piñata after eight SEC games. The kids need a break.
Often, the win-loss ratio needs a break, too. Otherwise you don’t qualify for the BuyThisThing.com Bowl.
The Sun Belts of the world, meanwhile, are hoping they don’t get shunned by the P5 power play. Western Carolina needs a payday from South Carolina, even if it’s going to cost 55-3.
Southern Miss coach Todd Monken likened it to “prostituting ourselves,” at Conference USA’s media day.
And the authorities will look the other way. I doubt Saban’s plan will ever fly. Even though the big guys are calling the shots, the majority are happy to pay the little guys to get a “W” done.
But I have to think a UT season-ticket buyer would prefer a schedule that included a marquee game like Oregon backed with meaningful competition instead of cupcakes.
That’s not to say Troy or Northern Illinois won’t make things interesting here and there. Western Kentucky might make things plenty interesting on Sept. 7.
Still, here’s a vote for renewing the old series with Georgia Tech. Would the Sunsphere explode if the Vols played Big Ten teams in the regular season?
In the meantime, enjoy Austin Peay and South Alabama. You paid enough for it.
Mike Strange may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at Strangemike44.