Going to the 'dogs

Tennessee's tendency to play better as an underdog will be tested in the weeks to come since the 1-2 Vols project to fill that role in at least five of their nine remaining games.

Future foes Auburn (this Saturday), Georgia (Oct. 11) and Alabama (Oct. 25) are proving to be top 15-caliber teams. South Carolina (Nov. 1) is dangerous in Columbia – ask Mark Richt – and Vanderbilt (Nov.22) has turned the college football world on its ear by zooming to No. 21 in the Associated Press national poll on the heels of a 4-0 start. Moreover, the Commodores get the Vols in Nashville.

There's also a good chance Kentucky (Nov. 29) could be favored when the 3-0 Wildcats roll into Knoxville two months hence.

That leaves just three teams on the remaining schedule the Big Orange projects to be favored against – Northern Illinois (Oct. 4), Mississippi State (Oct. 18) and Wyoming (Nov. 8).

Is the outlook really that bleak? Yep. Whereas Tennessee continues to spin its wheels, most of its future foes are improving on a week-to-week basis. Here's a look at how the remaining opponents fared last weekend:

AUBURN (SEPT. 27): The Tigers (3-1) gave defending national champ LSU fits before bowing 26-21 when the visitors hit an 18-yard touchdown pass with 1:03 remaining. Chris Todd appears to be settling in as Auburn's quarterback, based on a solid effort (17 of 32, 250 yards) on Saturday.

NORTHERN ILLINOIS (OCT. 4): After two losses to open the season, the Huskies showed a faint pulse in Game 3. They intercepted three passes, recovered a fumble and allowed just 154 yards of total offense (31 rushing) in a 48-3 drubbing of Indiana State.

GEORGIA (OCT. 11): The third-ranked Bulldogs improved to 4-0 by dumping Arizona State 27-10. Knowshon Moreno ran for 149 yards and the Dawg defense allowed just 4 net rushing yards.

MISSISSIPPI STATE (OCT. 18): Believe it or not, here's a team that makes Tennessee's offense look like a well-oiled machine. In a 38-7 loss to Georgia Tech the Bulldogs (1-3) scored a fourth-period TD against Tech reserves, ending a streak of eight quarters without an offensive POINT.

ALABAMA (OCT. 25): The Tide (4-0) continues its meteoric rise in Year 2 of the Nick Saban era. Bama raced to a 35-7 halftime lead at Fayetteville and annihilated Arkansas 49-14.

SOUTH CAROLINA (NOV. 1): The Gamecocks (2-2) needed a 17-yard TD pass with 1:58 remaining to finally put away Div. 1-AA Wofford 23-13. Chris Smelley passed for 204 yards but did not complete a throw of 20 yards or more all game.

WYOMING (NOV. 8): The Cowboys (2-2) lost 44-0 to Brigham Young but still played the Stormin' Mormons better than UCLA (59-0) did a week earlier. Dax Crum completed 15 of 28 passes for 119 yards and Devin Moore rushed 14 times for 97 yards but Wyoming was done in by six turnovers – three fumbles and three interceptions.

VANDERBILT (NOV. 22): The Commodores' Ryan Hamilton earned National Defensive Player of the Week after recording three interceptions, a touchdown-saving stop on fourth-and-inches and a fumble recovery in Vandy's 23-17 win at Ole Miss.

KENTUCKY (NOV. 29): The Big Blue (3-0) had open date in preparation for this weekend's visit from Western Kentucky.


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