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Schedule analysis: Tennessee

It's Year 2 of the Butch Jones era and time for a restless fan base to see more progress on the field:

Nonconference opponents (with 2013 records)

Aug. 31: Utah State (9-5)

Sept. 6: Arkansas State (8-5)

Sept. 13: at Oklahoma (7-2)

Oct. 11: Chattanooga (8-4)

SEC home games

Oct. 4: Florida

Oct. 25: Alabama

Nov. 15: Kentucky

Nov. 22: Missouri

SEC road games

Sept. 27: at Georgia

Oct. 18: at Ole Miss

Nov. 1: at South Carolina

Nov. 29: at Vanderbilt

Gut-check time: Back in the heydays of both programs, Tennessee and Florida clashed in Week 3 of every season. It was one of those classic SEC rivalries that set the early tone for the East Division. Last season, the teams met in Week 4 for the first time in years. This year, it's Week 5. Things have changed, but more importantly, the tone of the series has shifted as Florida has won nine straight meetings. This has become a bitter pill for the Vols and their fans, so there will be no lack of motivation to end the skid.

Trap game: After their season opener on Sunday, Aug. 31, Jones and Co. will have just five days to prepare for Arkansas State the following Saturday. The Red Wolves, who have been to three straight bowl games, are not a team to take lightly despite their upheaval at head coach (from Hugh Freeze in 2011 to Gus Malzahn in 2012 to Bryan Harsin in 2013 to Blake Anderson in 2014). In 20 years of coaching, Anderson has proven to have a gifted offensive mind.

Telltale stretch: The Vols have two brutal three-game tests that will define their 2014 season. Since this is a program trying to reestablish itself, the first impression will be more important as Tennessee travels to Oklahoma on Sept. 13. UT takes a breather with a bye the next week but then follows with two crucial SEC East battles -- at Georgia on Sept. 27 and home vs. Florida on Oct. 4.

Snoozer: Once that stretch is in the rearview mirror, Tennessee can relax a bit in a home date with FCS foe Chattanooga on Oct. 11. The Mocs are no slouch, having won the Southern Conference in 2013, but this is a team that got trampled last season in its only game against a major-conference FBS foe -- a 49-0 loss to Alabama.

Final analysis: This schedule starts fast and doesn't let up. It kicks off with two nonconference foes that will test Tennessee's improving defense. The Vols get the spotlight of the SEC Network's first Sunday night game in Week 1 against Utah State, and many college football fans will tune in to see electric Aggies QB Chuckie Keeton return after blowing out his knee last season. It'll be critical for UT to avoid any missteps against Utah State or Arkansas State, because that Week 3 road trip to take on an Oklahoma team picked as the preseason No. 1 by the Sporting News will be a monumental task. The Vols have a bye to catch their breath before two huge rivalry games against Georgia and Florida. By midseason we should know if Tennessee is up for the challenge of a difficult second half. The "other" brutal three-game stretch will be a mini-gauntlet, as UT goes to Ole Miss on Oct. 18, plays Alabama on Oct. 25 in Neyland, and then travels to Columbia, S.C. to face the Gamecocks on Nov. 1. The final quarter of the season (home games against Kentucky and Missouri before a regular-season finale at Vanderbilt) should offer the Vols a better chance to gather momentum for the future. Tennessee fans want progress in 2014, but even if they get what they're looking for, will it translate into wins? More patience will likely be required, which is not what anyone on Rocky Top wants to hear.