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Which decisive underdog is likely to threaten Tennessee football?

Which decisive underdog is likely to threaten Tennessee football?

Tennessee fans obviously see Georgia as their biggest football challenge. It’s easy to see why.

The Bulldogs won back-to-back national championships in 2021 and 2022. They narrowly missed the College Football Playoff last season. And they are a popular choice to win the next national title.

The UT’s challenge becomes even greater when you look at its recent track record. The Vols have lost seven straight games to Georgia.

That’s enough evidence to make a Tennessee win at Sanford Stadium this fall seem extremely unlikely.

But which opponent should be considered the next biggest threat to Tennessee? Alabama, Oklahoma or NC State are likely candidates.

Let’s not forget “Team X” though.

In each of the last two seasons under coach Josh Heupel, the Vols suffered a loss that no one could have seen coming. And a bowl loss to underdog Purdue after Heupel’s first season also seemed unlikely up front.

That loss was surprising. But Tennessee’s loss in 2022 was stunning. South Carolina defeated the Vols 63-38, ending their hopes of qualifying for the College Football Playoff.

Last season’s upset loss came at the hands of old nemesis Florida in The Swamp. The loss looked even worse as the Gators finished the season with a 5-7 record.

Who is the most likely underdog to cause problems for the Vols this season? The Vols could be favored over Oklahoma, NC State and Alabama. But they won’t be decisive favorites. Therefore, those opponents do not qualify as a “Team X” option.

Non-conference opponents Chattanooga, Kent State and UTEP are designated as pushovers. SEC opponents Mississippi State and Vanderbilt could be the two worst teams in the conference.

That leaves Florida, Arkansas and Kentucky.

After what happened last season, I expect the Vols will have circled the Gators on their schedule. Furthermore, this Florida team appears to be less talented than last year’s model.

I can’t pick Kentucky to upset Tennessee because I never pick Kentucky to beat Tennessee. And I have rarely been wrong. The Vols have won 36 of the last 39 games in the series.

Oops. I just realized I wrote myself into a corner. Arkansas is all that’s left.

The Razorbacks lost eight games last season and coach Sam Pittman is in one of the hottest spots in college football. In fact, Arkansas doesn’t seem to be able to upset anyone except its own fans.

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But who would have made a good case for the Razorbacks who upset Tennessee at Neyland Stadium in 1992? Or how could you have imagined Arkansas winning in Fayetteville seven years later, when the Vols defended the national champions?

The Razorbacks will also have home field advantage against UT this season. And the Vols haven’t been at their best on the road at times under Heupel.

The location could give Arkansas hope. But the schedule won’t be in his favor.

It will play back-to-back games against Auburn and Texas A&M before taking on Tennessee. Meanwhile, the Vols have an open date before playing the Razorbacks. So suggesting that Arkansas could threaten the Vols doesn’t make sense.

But which disruptions make sense in advance?

John Adams is a senior columnist. He can be reached at 865-342-6284 or [email protected]. Follow him on: twitter.com/johnadamskns.