October welcomed Tennessee with cool weather and a simple 41-10 win over Buffalo, but the pleasantries are over.
Senior defensive tackle Malik Jackson channeled his inner-Derek Dooley when he said after beating the Bulls, “I mean, this is nice and all, but we get back to big-boy ball next week.”
The Volunteers face the toughest stretch of the season when they go up against the meat of their SEC schedule for four straight weeks.
Home games against Georgia, No. 1 LSU and No. 18 South Carolina, and a road trip to No. 1 Alabama, give Tennessee one of its toughest Octobers in recent memory, but also present high opportunities. By the end of the month, Tennessee will know if it has any chance of earning an SEC Championship appearance with an eastern division crown, or if they’ll have to watch the likes of the Gators or Gamecocks in Atlanta once again.
Playing the top two teams in the nation, including a national title team from just two years ago, and the defending SEC East champions should be enough to motivate Tennessee. If it’s not, they can pull drive from somewhere else.
Whether the players and coaches admit it or not, October is about revenge for the Vols.
They lost to all four of these teams last season by a combined score of 136-62, and have a 4-9 record against them in the past four years. Georgia and South Carolina embarrassed the Vols. Alabama did the same, but more than that, it was in Neyland Stadium.
And fans still feel the sting of LSU’s chaotic 16-14 victory over the Vols in one of the most entertaining college football games of 2010 in which Tennessee had too many players on the field in what would have been the last play of a dramatic 14-10 upset. However, the No. 12 Tigers got another shot on the goal line and scored on a 1-yard run to clinch the game and remain undefeated.
Believe that the Oct. 15 rematch has been marked on the Vols’ calendar since then.
At least two of these games will be network television features, as the Vols host Georgia in a surprising 7 p.m. kickoff this Saturday on ESPN2, and the LSU game the next week on CBS at 3:30 p.m. Depending on how those two games go, the Alabama and South Carolina games could follow suit. Wins in any of these games would be great publicity for UT.
No, the Vols won’t sweep the month. And it’s not outlandish to think they could once again be swept. However, winning two games would keep them in the conversation in the SEC East. Even if they don’t get there, at least October presents the opportunity.