Schedule analysis: Tennessee

Taking a closer look at the Vols’ 2011 schedule in Season No. 2 under Derek Dooley:

Nonconference opponents (2010 records)

Sept. 3: Montana (7-4)

Sept. 10: Cincinnati (4-8)

Oct. 1: Buffalo (2-10)

Nov. 5: Middle Tennessee (6-7)

SEC home games

Oct. 8: Georgia

Oct. 15: LSU

Oct. 29: South Carolina

Nov. 19: Vanderbilt

SEC road games

Sept. 17: at Florida

Oct. 22: at Alabama

Nov. 12: at Arkansas

Nov. 26: at Kentucky

Gut-check time: It’s been a while since Tennessee last won at Alabama. The year was 2003, and the Vols pulled out a 51-43 victory in five overtimes. They return to Tuscaloosa this coming season to face an Alabama team that will start ranked in the top 5 nationally and has national championship aspirations. Alabama spanked Tennessee 41-10 last season in Knoxville, and under Nick Saban, has stopped the Vols in their tracks. In their past three meetings, Tennessee has been held to 10 points or fewer and has averaged just 11.5 points over the four games that Saban has been Alabama’s coach.

Trap game: Cincinnati isn’t the same team that played in the Allstate Sugar Bowl a few years ago, but the Bearcats have all 11 starters returning on defense as well as a senior quarterback. The Bearcats could catch the Vols peeking ahead to their trip to Florida the following week.

Snoozer: After buying its way out of the North Carolina series, Tennessee replaced the Tar Heels with an Oct. 1 home date with Buffalo. Talk about padding the schedule.

Telltale stretch: Look no further than the month of October, which saw the Vols go 0-for-4 a year ago. This time, at least three of the games are at home. The month kicks off with Buffalo’s visit, but what follows is a brutal four-week stretch. Georgia comes to Knoxville on Oct. 8 and then LSU on Oct. 15. The Vols travel to Alabama on Oct. 22 and come back home to face South Carolina on Oct. 29.

Final analysis: When you look at that four-week stretch in October, nobody’s going to call the Vols' schedule easy. However, it is easier than it was a year ago simply because Oregon isn’t on the schedule and those road trips to Georgia, LSU and South Carolina are now home games. That gauntlet in October would have been even more harrowing had Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton not paid a penalty to back out of the North Carolina series. The Vols were originally scheduled to play the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill. Arkansas also comes on the schedule in 2011, and that game is in Fayetteville. Still, with the nonconference slate being so soft and the traditional two games against Vanderbilt and Kentucky at the end of the season, the Vols should be in position to better their 6-7 record from a year ago. That’s going to require beating somebody that counts, which they didn’t do last season.