KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Coaches like to say their next game is the biggest game, but in Tennessee’s case, it’s more than a cliche.
The Vols travel to play South Carolina at 7:15 p.m. on Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, S.C.
No one is sure exactly what combination Tennessee will put on the field on account of all of the injuries and attrition the Vols have sustained this season.
Tennessee is coming off a bye week, a time Coach Butch Jones says lends itself to experimenting with players and perhaps even the playbook.
Ranking the Vols final five games, least difficult to most difficult:
5. Tennessee Tech
The Golden Eagles are 3-5 after their 21-20 homecoming win over Southeast Missouri, and they’ll have a bye week to prepare for their trip to Tennessee on Sept. 5.
The Golden Eagles, however, are a bad FCS opponent that the Vols should feast on in Neyland Stadium.
Tennessee Tech’s average score in its past five games against Power 5 conference teams dating back to 2010 is 50.2 to 6.2:
Wisconsin (48-0, 2013); Oregon (63-14, 2012); Iowa 34-7 (2011); Arkansas 44-3 (2010); TCU 62-7 (2010)
Tennessee should win in much the same fashion.
There’s an unpredictable element about Tigers (2-4, 0-3) that always seems to make them a wild card.
Even in a transition season with a new head coach, Missouri has had its moments and should have beaten Georgia if not for a last-second touchdown pass.
Missouri will be coming off a three-game homestead when it travels to Knoxville for a Nov. 19 game, but the guess here is the Tigers will be coming off a loss to the Commodores.
Yes, the Wildcats beat South Carolina earlier this season (17-10, Sept. 24), but that was in Lexington and the Vols play them at Neyland Stadium on Nov. 12.
Tennessee will be coming off a game that should allow Butch Jones to pull his starters at halftime on Nov. 5, so it will be a healthy and happy Vols’ team when Kentucky comes to town.
Besides, it will be basketball season in Kentucky come November. Playing second-fiddle in the athletic hierarchy always seems to take a little something out of football players at basketball schools.
The Commodores beat Georgia (17-16, Oct. 15), but that will be ancient history by the time Tennessee travels to Nashville to conclude the regular season on Nov. 26 at Vanderbilt Stadium.
The Commodores will likely be coming off a defeat at the hands of Ole Miss the week before, so it could be a beat-up football team.
1. South Carolina
The Gamecocks (3-4, 1-4) have played the Vols close of late, the past four games being decided by three points or less.
Further, South Carolina coach will Muschamp went 4-0 against Tennessee when he was head coach at Florida from 2011-2014.
The Gamecocks are coming off a 34-28 win over UMass — a game they led 34-14 entering the fourth quarter.