The Tennessee Vols surpassed expectations last year by finishing 7-6 in Josh Heupel’s first season as the program’s head coach.

While the 7-6 season was a welcome surprise for Vols fans, it just means that expectations will be even higher in 2022 for Heupel.

If the Vols don’t improve on their seven wins from last year, the season will be viewed as a massive disappointment.

Unfortunately for Heupel and Tennessee, it could be tough to improve much on last year’s seven wins.

That’s because the Vols, according to CBS Sports, have the fourth toughest schedule in the SEC this upcoming season, behind Auburn (the Tigers have the toughest schedule in 2022), Vanderbilt, and Arkansas.

Here’s what CBS Sports says about Tennessee’s 2022 schedule:

Second-year coach Josh Heupel has one of the most dynamic offenses in the country, and he’s going to need it quite often based on how his schedule is laid out. The Volunteers visit defending ACC champion Pittsburgh in Week 2, have a rotating SEC game in Death Valley against LSU, have to visit Georgia in November and have road games in three of their final four contests. They will be a trendy pick to threaten Georgia in the SEC East, but it won’t be easy based on this slate of games.

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Nov 20, 2021; Knoxville, Tennessee, USA; Tennessee Volunteers running back Jabari Small (2) runs with the ball during the first half against the South Alabama Jaguars at Neyland Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bryan Lynn-USA TODAY Sports

Based on the Vols’ schedule, I think the ceiling for the regular season is 10-2 and the floor is 7-5. I think Tennessee has two “automatic losses” on the table with Alabama and Georgia. And then I think there are three toss-up games — Pittsburgh, Florida, and LSU.

The most likely scenario is that Tennessee loses to Alabama and Georgia and then either goes 1-2 or 2-1 in the toss-up games. I lean toward the Vols going 9-3 with the third loss coming at the hands of LSU in Baton Rouge. 9-3 would be an incredibly successful season for Tennessee.

We’ll see if it comes to fruition. This is a tough year to predict for the Volunteers, though I imagine we’ll gain quite a bit of clarity on what to expect from Tennessee on September 1 after we see how the Vols look against Ball State in the season-opener.

Featured image via Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports