Tennessee Football: Ranking the 2012 Schedule from Easiest to Toughest

Randy ChambersAnalyst IJune 20, 2012

Tennessee Football: Ranking the 2012 Schedule from Easiest to Toughest

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    The Tennessee Volunteers have suffered the last few seasons as the program has tried to get back on track. They have not won a bowl game since 2007.This may be the season where they finally right the ship, as a total of 18 starters return and a couple of players return from injury as well.

    There should be a lot of optimism for this team heading into the 2012 season, but the SEC schedule still remains. If the Volunteers are to have a successful season, they will have to do so playing against teams such as South Carolina, Alabama, Florida and the rest of the gang.

    As we get closer to the college football season kicking off, here are the easiest and toughest matchups for the Tennessee Volunteers in the 2012 season.

12. Georgia State

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    Last year's record: 3-8

    Returning starters: N/A

    This game is such a mismatch that even Smokey is howling and wishing it would stop. The Panthers really stand no chance in this matchup at all.

11. Akron

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    Last year's record: 1-11

    Returning starters: 14

    What is there to say about the Akron Zips, other than the fact that they are one of the worst teams in all of college football? Seriously, this team ranked in the 100s in nearly every major statistical category, including points scored and points allowed. Chalk up another easy victory for Tennessee. 

10. Troy

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    Last year's record: 3-9

    Returning starters: 15

    Troy is another team that does not stand much of a chance against Tennessee. The Trojans defense allowed nearly 34 points per game in the Sun Belt Conference last season. That doesn't look good when having to take on an above-average offense such as the Volunteers. 

9. Kentucky

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    Last year's record: 5-7

    Returning starters: 12

    How in the world Kentucky beat Tennessee last season, we will never know, but the Volunteers did win the last 26 meetings before that upset. The Wildcats are simply not a good football team that struggles mightily to put points on the board. Tennessee should easily win this game. 

8. At Vanderbilt

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    Last year's record: 6-7

    Returning starters: 16

    Vanderbilt is slowly becoming a team to pay more attention to in the SEC under head coach James Franklin. The Commodores defense was ranked sixth in the conference and they return 1,000-yard rusher Zac Stacy. With that said, Vanderbilt has lost 28 of its last 29 meetings against the Volunteers.

7. North Carolina State (In Atlanta, GA)

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    Last year's record: 8-5

    Returning starters: 14

    Much like Tennessee, North Carolina State is a team that is on the rise in their conference, the ACC. The Wolfpack return majority of their starters, including starting quarterback Mike Glennon and cornerback David Amerson (who led the country and set a conference record with 13 interceptions). This will be a big test for both teams in the season opener.

6. At Mississippi State

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    Last year's record: 7-6

    Returning starters: 12

    Mississippi State should be an improved team in 2012, despite losing a few key players during the offseason. Seven starters return from an underrated defense and new starting quarterback Tyler Russell has impressed throughout the spring. Traveling to Starkville is never easy, but the Volunteers have won nine of the last 10 meetings against the Bulldogs.

5. Missouri

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    Last year's record: 8-5

    Returning starters: 11

    These two teams are very similar. Both are well coached, play solid defense and have several playmakers throughout the offense. In order to win this game, Tennessee must slow down dual-threat quarterback James Franklin and make the Tigers find offensive production elsewhere. Should be a great matchup between two young and talented teams.

4. Florida

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    Last year's record: 7-6

    Returning starters: 17

    The Florida Gators may have serious questions on the offensive side of the ball, but this is a team that always plays Tennessee well. In the last 14 meetings, 11 of those games have been decided by two touchdowns or less. Florida has won the last seven games in a row against the Volunteers as well.

    This may be Tennessee's chance to snap that losing streak.

3. At Georgia

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    Last year's record: 10-4

    Returning starters: 15

    Tennessee played Georgia tough last season, only losing by eight points, but this time the game is in Athens, a place the Volunteers have lost three of the last five. The Bulldogs have plenty of offensive weapons and return nine starters from a defense that finished ranked fifth in the country.

2. At South Carolina

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    Last year's record: 11-2

    Returning starters: 13

    Tennessee is 22-6-2 against South Carolina all-time, but has lost three of their last four meetings. Winning in 2012 against the Gamecocks won’t be any easier, as the No. 3 defense in the country returns six starters. They also get a healthy Marcus Lattimore in the backfield and have the privilege of playing in Columbia.

1. Alabama

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    Last year's record: 12-1

    Returning starters: 11

    If the Volunteers would really like to make a statement to the college football world, they would defeat the defending national champions. Easier said than done, as the Crimson Tide remain one of the deepest teams in the country and have an offense that is becoming more balanced with the growth of quarterback A.J. McCarron. The last time Tennessee knocked off Alabama was in 2006.