KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee could be in the midst of the type of gauntlet no team has faced in two decades.
The Volunteers (4-3, 1-2 SEC) visit top-ranked Alabama (7-0, 4-0) on Saturday in their third straight game against a Top 25 team. They follow that up by visiting No. 5 Missouri (7-0, 3-0) and hosting No. 11 Auburn (6-1, 3-1) the next two weeks.
If Missouri and Auburn remain in the Top 25 when they face Tennessee, the Vols would become the first team since 1993 to face seven ranked opponents in an eight-game stretch within the same season.
“Every week is a new season.” Tennessee coach Butch Jones said. “That’s the way you have to treat it.”
This stretch started Sept. 14 with a 59-14 loss at No. 2 Oregon. The Vols followed that up by losing 31-17 to Florida, ranked 19th at the time. After winning 31-24 over South Alabama, Tennessee lost 34-31 in overtime to Georgia, ranked sixth at the time. Tennessee ended a 19-game losing streak against ranked opponents Saturday with a 23-21 victory over South Carolina, which fell from 11th to 20th after the game.
According to STATS, the last team to play seven ranked teams in the span of eight games was UCLA from November 2007 to September 2008, but that run carried over two seasons. STATS’ research shows that no team has faced seven ranked opponents in an eight-game stretch within a single season since Pittsburgh in 1993.
Pittsburgh went 1-7 during that stretch - losing to all the ranked teams it faced - and finished the season 3-8.
“We were highly overscheduled with Ohio State and Notre Dame in the same year with a team that had fallen on hard times and a program that had fallen on hard times,” said Johnny Majors, who coached that Pittsburgh team.
Majors, a 1956 Heisman Trophy runner-up at Tennessee who coached the Vols from 1977-92, considers Jones a friend. He believes Jones has his team prepared to handle this kind of stretch.