Tennessee football didn't make the Top 25. But it would beat these 4 ranked teams

Tennessee football didn't make the Associated Press' top-25 poll, but that doesn't mean the Vols aren't better than some of the teams ranked ahead of them entering the season.

The AP released its preseason Top 25 on Monday, with Alabama, Ohio State and Georgia at the top. Tennessee was the first team left out of the Top 25, receiving 180 votes and missing the 25th ranking to BYU by 54 votes. The Vols were also left out of the USA Today Sports AFCA Coaches Poll released earlier this month.

Despite the AP ranking, Tennessee football has been a trendy pick to improve after finishing last season with seven wins.

The Vols have four scheduled regular-reason matchups against ranked teams, starting with No. 17 Pitt in Week 2. Tennessee will also host No. 1 Alabama and No. 20 Kentucky and travel to No. 3 Georgia.

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Here's a few teams that were ranked in the preseason that the Vols could've beat.

No. 17: Pitt

Pitt was ranked No. 17 after finishing with an 11-3 record last year, but this isn't the same Panthers team that beat the Vols 41-34 inside Neyland Stadium. Gone is Kenny Pickett, the first-round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers in April, who quarterbacked Pitt to the gutsy road win. And gone is Tennessee's quarterback conundrum that existed, with Joe Milton giving way to Hendon Hooker during the Pitt game after a slew of overthrows and a second-quarter injury. Just imagine the outcome if Hooker had played the entire game? UT fans will find out Sept. 10 when the Vols face the Panthers on the road.

No. 20: Kentucky

Say what you want about John Calipari labeling Kentucky a basketball school, but the facts — at least in the football series against the Vols — back him up. Even in Tennessee's leanest years, the Wildcats have struggled to knock off their biggest football rival, losing 35 of the past 38 in the series and eight of the past 11 since 2011. Under Mark Stoops — the winningest coach in Kentucky football history — the Wildcats are 2-7 against UT, including last season's 45-42 loss in Lexington. This year's game is inside Neyland Stadium.

No. 22: Wake Forest

Tennessee and Wake Forest aren't scheduled to meet this season, but Vols fans surely wouldn't mind a shot at the man who helped end the Phillip Fulmer era. It's true Dave Clawson, UT's offensive coordinator in Fulmer's final season in 2008, has turned the Demon Deacons into a respectable and consistent program. But we've also seen how middle-tier ACC programs stack up against middle-tier SEC programs — and it ain't good. What's more, the Demon Deacons' chances took another hit in recent weeks with Sam Hartman's indefinite absence with a non-football-related medical condition. Quarterback experience — and the victory — would go to Vols.

No. 24: Houston Cougars

Houston was ranked at No. 24 in the AP Poll with 263 votes after finishing last season with 12 wins. The Cougars will have some challenges replacing star running back Alton McCaskill after an ACL tear, which leaves time for the Vols to speed ahead with one of the fastest-paced offenses in college football. Tennessee isn't scheduled to face the Cougars in the regular season, and it's unlikely they'd face in the postseason, either. The most common bowl alignments between the SEC and American Athletic Conference are the Birmingham Bowl and Gasparilla Bowl, two second-tier options that would likely require both teams to not meet expectations in 2022.

Dani Mohr is a trending sports writer for the South Region of USA Today Network based at The Tennessean in Nashville. Contact her at dmohr@gannett.com or follow her on Twitter @daniraemohr

This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: Tennessee football didn't make AP Top 25. But it would beat these teams