As the clock ticks down towards the September 1 kick off, expectations are as high as they've been in recent memory. Seventeen starters return from a 9-4 season that saw the Vols close to beating two of the four playoff teams.Yes, there was also Florida and Arkansas. But it's nice to be arguing the fine points of one score losses to top teams, rather than sweating out a bowl birth. Once again, it's good to be a Tennessee Vol!

Sept. 1 - Appalachian State -The Mountaineers return 15 starters from an 11-2 team. This is a well coached, veteran team. If you let them hang around bad things can happen.

Prediction - Tennessee 42 - App. State 10

Sept. 10 -Virginia Tech(at Bristol, Tn) - With a successful 29 year career as the Hokies head coach, Frank Beamer retired after the 2015 season. His 238 wins and 23 bowl trips in a roll, will be something for new, 39 year old head coach, Justin Fuente to aspire towards.Prediction - Tennessee 27 - Virginia Tech 14

Sept. 10 - Ohio -MAC team expected to contend for the conference title.Prediction - Tennessee 34 - Ohio 14

Sept. 24 - Florida-The Gators ended 2015 without a proven quarterback and a weak -- by SEC standards -- offensive line. Their defense was good by anyone's standards. This year, the O-line will be much improved. The quarterback situation is still up in the air.

Whoever wins likely wont be as good asWill Grier. Defensively, though they lost a couple of super stars, they have good talent moving up. Linebacker may be a trouble spot due to lack of numbers. Still, don't expect much of a drop off from 2015. A fast start would be great for confidence but the Vols win either way.

Prediction - Tennessee 20 - Florida 13

Oct. 1 at Georgia -This is the perfect trap game. First, people assume -- wrongly -- that Georgia is down because they have a new coach. This is as talented a Georgia team as the Vols have played since 2001. The Bulldogs get a four point edge playing at home. In addition, the Vols have to quickly climb off cloud nine from the Florida game.

How well they do that can be attributed to team leaders and the coaching staff. Prediction - Tennessee 31 - Georgia 28

Oct. 8 at Texas A&M -The second perfect trap game. I feel strongly that the Vols slip either at Georgia or here. This will be a decisive year for Kevin Sumlin at Texas A&M. They have plenty of talent, though now less two five star quarterbacks that should be playing. Their new OC likes the spread, though his teams run alot more than most spread teams. The DC -- John Chavis -- is one of the best in the business and he has his system solidly in place. Prediction - Texas A&M 24 - Tennessee 23

Oct. 15 Alabama - Vols have lost nine in a row to the Tide. Time to exorcise the other demon.

Prediction - Tennessee 13 - Alabama 10

Oct. 29 at South Carolina -Although South Carolina is struggling in the wake of Steve Spurrier's retirement, they will play the Vols fairly tough as usual.Prediction - Tennessee 35 - South Carolina 21

Nov. 5 Tennessee Tech -An FCS team that was 4-7 in 2015.Prediction - Tennessee 52 - Tech 14

Nov. 12 Kentucky -Over the past four years, UT has beaten the Wildcats by an average of 20 points per game.Prediction - Tennessee 42 - Kentucky 24

Nov. 19 Missouri -New head coach Gary Odom has taken the reins from Gary Pinkle. The Tigers ended 2015 struggling on offense but superb on defense. Expect the defense to be one of the conference'sbest. The offense is still uncertain so any improvement is welcomed there.

Prediction - Tennessee 27 - Missouri 14

Nov. 26 at Vanderbilt -The Volunteers come into Nashville on a roll. Then, they roll over Vandy.Prediction - Tennessee 45 - Vandy 20

With this schedule, UT could be an excellent team and still finish 9-3. From a scheduling standpoint, it comes down to four games. Florida, at Georgia, at A&M and Bama at home.A winning record through that stretch and this team may be on its way. As Phil Fulmer said after the 1998 win over Arkansas, "why not us, why not Tennessee?"

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