The Tennessee Volunteers will play four road games in 2018 for the fourth consecutive season.
The SEC East opponents the Vols will travel to are Georgia, South Carolina and Vanderbilt. Tennessee hosted LSU in 2017, so they will have to hit the road in 2018 for the rotational SEC West crossover game to face the Auburn Tigers.
SEC football games are difficult no matter where they are played. However, when played on the road it makes them even more grueling. This list will rank the toughest road games the Vols will face in 2018 from easiest to hardest.
*West Virginia was not included due to the game being at a neutral site.
#4: Vanderbilt Commodores – Vanderbilt Stadium
Playing on the road in the SEC is never an easy task. Although, road games at Vanderbilt Stadium might be the one exception.
For starters, the Commodores do not exactly have the strongest fan base. To make matters worse for them, their stadium only holds roughly 40,000, by far the lowest in the SEC. Lastly, there are so many Tennessee fans in the state that a road game in Nashville usually just turns into another home game for the Vols.
Aside from the nonexistent home field atmosphere, Vanderbilt is not exactly returning a ton of talent, either. The only notable player returning is quarterback Kyle Shurmur.
Shurmur had a heck of season last year, throwing for 2,823 yards with 26 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He will be missing a couple of key pieces in 2018, though. Trent Sherfield was Vanderbilt’s leading receiver last season, but has since graduated. Likewise, leading rusher Ralph Webb also graduated and will try his hand at the NFL.
Vanderbilt’s lack of talent is definitely concerning and they do not have a great recruiting class coming in to help. According to the 247 Sports composite, they only have two top-300 players signed and/or committed. Combine this with the fact that the Volunteer faithful will take over Nashville in late November and it makes for the easiest road game for Tennessee.
#3: Auburn Tigers – Jordan-Hare Stadium
Playing at Jordan-Hare is no easy feat. In fact, Auburn has not even lost at home since LSU beat them back in September 2016.
Auburn can host over 87,000 fans on Saturdays, and every one of them helps create a disruptive environment. Despite all this, Tennessee’s road game against Auburn ranks only third.
There a few factors for why this game is lower on the list, but the main reason is that it falls after Tennessee’s bye week. The Vols play Auburn October 13, and luckily get a week of rest prior to the big match up. There are still a lot of unanswered questions regarding both teams, but one thing is certain.
Tennessee will be rested, whereas Auburn will be playing its seventh in a row. To add insult to injury, the week before they host Tennessee, they have to travel to Starkville and play Mississippi State.
Do not get it twisted, though. Auburn is still the better team as of now. Tennessee fans are not exactly sure what kind of product they will get next season. Auburn, on the other hand, has quarterback Jarrett Stidham returning.
All he did was throw for 3,158 yards and 18 touchdowns last season. Tennessee will have a lot to learn before this game, but it is still very winnable. The Vols have not beaten Auburn since 1999, and coach Jeremy Pruitt would love to get his team back in the win column.
#2: South Carolina Gamecocks – Williams-Brice Stadium
Tennessee will travel to Columbia, S.C. on October 27. While Williams-Brice is not exactly the toughest away environment, Tennessee has not had much success there in the past. The Vols have lost four of their last five on the road at South Carolina. The lone win came in dramatic fashion in 2014 with a 45-42 comeback win in overtime.
The Gamecocks have one of the better quarterbacks returning this season in Jake Bentley. Not to be outdone, star wide out Deebo Samuel will also return for his senior season. This alone is enough to worry Tennessee, but there is a bigger reason this game is the second-toughest road game. The week before, Tennessee will host the Alabama Crimson Tide in Neyland Stadium. Just to add some salt to the wound, South Carolina will have their bye week before they play Tennessee.
Everybody has heard of the Alabama hangover. Typically, teams are more sluggish the week after playing Alabama and that is a big worry for this game.
Tennessee will likely be drained from its two games before South Carolina, and the effects could show mightily. Combine that with the fact that the Gamecocks will be well-rested, and this has the makings of really troublesome road game.
#1: Georgia Bulldogs – Sanford Stadium
Was there ever any doubt?
After the absolute drubbing Tennessee took at home last year, the Georgia Bulldogs will be looking to do it again in front of their home fans. This game has become quite the rivalry recently as of late, too. Tennessee leads the all-time series 23-22-2, but Georgia will be ready to even that up. After the way last year ended, it will be interesting to see how the Vols respond in a hostile environment.
There are not any advanced reasons as to why it will be tough for Tennessee, either. The game takes place early in the season, so fatigue should not be an issue.
Both teams play an SEC opponent the week before, so there will not be an unfair advantage. Sure, their quarterback Jake Fromm will be back, but UGA lost a ton of talent, also. There might still be a significant gap in talent, but that’s football. Pruitt will have to scheme a great game plan and rely on the returning talent Tennessee does have.
This game has potential to dictate how the Vols’ season goes. It will be their toughest road game of the season, and how they handle it will say a lot. If they go into Athens and put up a valiant effort, Tennessee’s road ahead only gets easier.
Go to Athens and fold, and things will only get worse as the season progresses.