Schedule analysis: Tennessee Volunteers

As we inch closer to the start of the season, it’s time to review the schedules of every SEC team. Whether it’s home vs. road, nonconference matchups or potential trap games, there’s a lot to get into.

We continue the series with the Tennessee Volunteers.

Nonconference opponents (with 2015 record)

Sept. 1: Appalachian State (11-2)

Sept. 10: vs. Virginia Tech (7-6) (in Bristol, Tennessee)

Sept. 17: Ohio (8-5)

Nov. 5: Tennessee Tech (4-7)

SEC home games

Sept. 24: Florida (10-4)

Oct. 15: Alabama (14-1)

Nov. 12: Kentucky (5-7)

Nov. 19: Missouri (5-7)

SEC road games

Oct. 1: Georgia (10-3)

Oct. 8: Texas A&M (8-5)

Oct. 29: South Carolina (3-9)

Nov. 26: Vanderbilt (4-8)

Gut-check time: It's pretty clear that the stretch from Sept. 24 to Oct. 15 will define the Vols' season. The SEC Eastern Division favorites will have to get through games against Florida, Georgia, Texas A&M and Alabama relatively unscathed if they want to make it back to Atlanta for the first time since 2007. The Gators have beaten Tennessee 11 straight times, Georgia and Texas A&M are both on the road, and Alabama is, well, Alabama. The fact that Florida -- Tennessee's real life Achilles' heel -- and Georgia are back-to-back puts a ton of pressure on the Vols when it comes to staying ahead in the East. Those are must-wins for this team. A&M is very much a mystery this season, but everyone knows how desperate it is so watch out. Alabama could be the best team in the country, so, good luck.

Trap game: Keep your head on a swivel, Vols, when you're in Columbia, South Carolina. The Gamecocks don't have a ton to work with this season, but that doesn't mean this isn't a dangerous team. The atmosphere inside Williams-Brice Stadium is always rocking, and the Gamecocks will be out for blood. Tennessee does have an extra week to prepare, but the Vols need to be focused going into a game they should be double-digit favorites in. South Carolina doesn't have a ton to lose this fall, so the Gamecocks should throw the kitchen sink at the Vols. This is a road game in a rival's hostile environment. Should be fun.

Final analysis: Outside of that brutal stretch in the middle of the season, this is a very manageable schedule. This is the kind of schedule that can build a champion -- both SEC and nationally -- but there are some snags along the way. Outside of the battle in Bristol with Virginia Tech in Week 2, the nonconference schedule is silly easy. The Vols will be favored against a rebuilding Virginia Tech team, so Tennessee should sweep nonconference play. Beating Florida is the key. This is the hump Tennessee hasn't gotten over in four coaches. Eleven straight losses to one opponent can weigh on a program, and this one is weighing heavily on Tennessee. If the Vols lose that one, it could be yet another uphill battle to get back to Atlanta. Win that one, and escape that stretch with no more than one loss, and the Vols will be in very good shape. Tennessee should be favored in every game after Alabama, as those five teams combined for a paltry 21-38 record last year.