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Tennessee Football: Ranking all 13 SEC teams who should be on Vols’ eight-game schedule in 2024

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With no divisions and an eight-game schedule as a stop-gap plan in 2024 for the SEC, Tennessee Football can keep all of its rivals at least for a year and also draw some other interesting games. Here is a ranking of all 13 league teams based on whether or not the Vols should face them.

13. Texas A&M

UT has no historical rivalry with the Texas A&M Aggies, the program didn’t join the SEC until 2012, and the states don’t even border each other. The schools have played four times, splitting the series at two apiece. Simply put, while they will face off in 2023, there’s no reason for them to face off consistently.

12. LSU

Sure, the LSU Tigers are an SEC school, but again, they have no historical rivalry with Tennessee Football and aren’t part of bordering states. Now, these two teams have had some legendary moments, with a UT upset ending LSU’s 1959 national championship campaign and LSU returning the favor in the 2001 SEC title game, but it’s not a real rivalry at all.

11. Missouri

Okay, so the Missouri Tigers aren’t anybody to take seriously despite the fact that they have played each other every year since Mizzou joined the SEC in 2012. However, Tennessee Football lost the first three and five of the first seven in the series. Only this past year did they finally take the series lead. The states also border, so it’s an interesting matchup for the Vols.

10. Arkansas

Again, the states border, even though the Vols play in East Tennessee and the Arkansas Razorbacks play in the western portion of their state. Still, these two had a yearly rivalry from 1992 through 2002 with legendary games in 1992, 1998, 1999 and 2002. Those matchups alone make this series memorable.

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9. South Carolina

Technically, these states don’t border, but UT is closer to the South Carolina Gamecocks than most other SEC schools, and they have played each other every year since 1992. Also, this was the closest series in the league from 2012 to 2018. Add in last year’s debacle and the Steve Spurrier saga, and you could make a case here.

8. Texas

There are many reasons to take the Gamecocks over the Texas Longhorns. Tennessee and Texas don’t border each other, don’t have a rivalry and have only played each other three times, the last being in 1968. However, it’s a rivalry over the real orange and the real UT, and then there’s the Rick Barnes connection, so this will be epic when they start playing.

7. Auburn

History is the biggest reason for this one. The Vols and Auburn Tigers had an annual rivalry from 1956 to 1991, and it exploded in the 1980s between Johnny Majors and Pat Dye. Bringing it back has always been the desire of numerous fans, and there’s at least the chance to do that in 2024.

6. Ole Miss

Like Auburn, the Tennessee rivalry with the Ole Miss Rebels went defunct after the SEC split in 1992. At the time, Auburn was a bigger loss. However, since then, you have Peyton Manning committing to the Vols, Lane Kiffin going to Ole Miss and the 2021 debacle. All that is enough to move Ole Miss higher on the list.

5. Georgia

We now go to the untouchables if you have room to make them work. Obviously, the Georgia Bulldogs didn’t become a rivalry until the divisional split in 1992, but the recruiting wars between the two after that were huge, and they have cost each other the SEC East multiple times.

4. Florida

Are there any questions about being able to make this happen? No rivalry exploded over night like Tennessee Football and the Florida Gators in the 1990s. The divisional split made them annual opponents just as they both emerged as top five programs. It’ll likely end with a three-six model or one-seven model, but you can keep it for next year.

3. Kentucky

We go from significance to history. The Kentucky Wildcats are the Vols’ most played opponent in school history, so it’s hard to make the case that they shouldn’t keep playing if the SEC can help it for at least one more year. Sure, this is just about tradition, but that has to count for something.

2. Vanderbilt

Sticking with tradition, this is the fourth most-played rivalry in the SEC, and the Vols have a history with the Vanderbilt Commodores despite dominating the series. Remember, Robert Neyland was hired to even the score with Vandy in 1926. He did that and made UT the dominant program, but this is the Vols’ one in-state foe, so they matter in any circumstance.

1. Alabama

Although Auburn is a priority for the SEC when picking the Alabama Crimson Tide’s opponent, this game was as big as the Iron Bowl before the split in 1992. Tennessee Football and Bama were the standard of the SEC and have been that historically, even as the Vols fell off the past 15 years. There is genuine hatred between these schools and a lot at stake when they play. It’s clearly the most important game for UT.

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