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Filling That Empty Seat: Ideas for Our 13th Game

A few guesses at what a 13th game might hold.

Syndication: The Knoxville News-Sentinel
Lea looks lonely. Let’s fix that!
Caitie McMekin/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK

As you may have seen, Coach Lea expects us to schedule a 13th game. I am sure it will get announced sooner rather than later, although we have seen announcements come as late as the week-of in cases like BYU-Coastal Carolina in 2020. In the meantime, I thought I would put together a list of teams that could fill that gap, some much more likely than others. Before I get into it, our two bye weeks are currently the first and last weekends of October. That means the additional game would most likely be played on October 1st or October 29th, and I will try to keep that in mind while evaluating possible fill-ins. Also, since the point of adding a matchup is to boost our chances of making a bowl game, I will (generally) only be looking at available FBS teams.


Most of the teams I’m looking at are similar to Vanderbilt in that they just played a Week 0 game. That’s the case with Nevada, who just beat New Mexico State 23-12 and happens to have a spot on their schedule October 1st. October 1st is between our games at Alabama and against Ole Miss, though, so I have a feeling we may want to keep that bye week because we may need it just to make sure our players make it out of the season alive.

Utah State

Utah State could not open the season with two more different opponents. They just beat UConn 31-20 and are now set to face Bama in Tuscaloosa. They may need all the rest they can get after the beatdown they are about to receive, OOORRR they could schedule us in either of their bye weeks. Given the dual scheduling threat the Aggies pose as well as the fact that we share two opponents with them (Hawai’i and Bama) this season, I would bet this is the team we are most likely pursuing. Or maybe not! They also seem to be the highest quality team of the options I’m presenting here, and I don’t like my cupcakes to be too chewy, you know? I would rather take the surest thing possible than risk an upset and live up to everyone’s lowest expectations of us.


Okay hear me out. We last had the chance to beat our dearest rivals in 1942 before the team shuttered for World War II. I don’t care that they’re Division III now or that they’re playing on both Saturdays that we have free. They’ve won five games in six days before, so surely they can manage a doubleheader the same day they play Millsaps or Rhodes. Heck we could pay for them to hop on a plane in Memphis after their game at Rhodes and fly them here ourselves. Even if it didn’t get us any closer to a bowl game, it would be great for the program to get the chance to beat up our One True Rival again. Maybe they could even put up more points against us than Hawai’i did!


Okay, fine, back to business. UNLV just blew out Idaho State 52-21 and could now fit us in on either day we have available. Of the FBS teams with an extra bye week and shared availability, this appears to be the weakest team. ESPN’s Football Power Index suggests so at least, and while FPI is not perfect, it is the best tool I have for evaluating UNLV because, and this may come as a shocker, I am not an expert on UNLV football. If the largest determining factor in scheduling a game is winnability, then it would make sense that we get UNLV on the docket and avenge our 2019 loss as well as add intrigue to next year’s matchup in Vegas. It also helps that UNLV already plays Utah State and Nevada this year; there is no chance they double-schedule their Mountain West rivals. There doesn’t seem to be any other team with matching availability besides us, either. I would almost count on this being our 13th game, probably in the October 29th slot between Missouri and South Carolina, assuming we actually do schedule one.