So, the Vols are favored by a robust 51.5 and have beaten their previous three FCS foes 50-0, 42-16, and 51-13. The low hanging fruit suggests if Derek Dooley can handle an FCS squad easily, the Butch Jones Vols should do the same.
So yeah, maybe we panic if things are close into the second half, but in all likelihood the more pressing questions will be less about the final outcome and more about the players involved. There are few sure things with this Tennessee team, namely the offensive line and A.J. Johnson. Everything else is a question of some kind, some more important than others, none fully answerable against Austin Peay.
But that won't stop us from trying. Here are the five players we're most interested to see tomorrow night:
5. Anyone who can pressure the quarterback
Worth repeating, one last time: the Vols had 17 sacks last season, 103rd nationally, and seven of those came against Georgia State and Kentucky. This isn't just a Sal Sunseri problem; the Vols have been terrible at getting to the quarterback for the last seven years. The Vols should also be short-handed here Saturday with Jacques Smith and Corey Vereen out or at least slowed by injury.
Butch Jones is on record saying the Vol defensive line will go as Daniel McCullers goes, so watch him to be sure. But who can McCullers help spring? Doesn't have to be just one guy, but if the Vols leave this game with no sacks and little pressure, it will definitely be cause for concern.
4. Anyone who plays quarterback after Justin Worley
It's no surprise Worley was named the starter. The mystery comes behind him, where Nathan Peterman is listed as the two and we could see all four of these guys on Saturday. Will we, in meaningful action? And is this a full blown quarterback race still, or just a legitimate battle for backup duty if the starter falters? Everyone loves the backup, especially if a freshman (or two) is involved, so even if the Vols are up 50 in the second half, keep your seats, because we may get a look at everybody.
3. Curt Maggitt
If #56 plays at all, it will be limited. We don't need him to beat Austin Peay and may not need him to beat Western Kentucky, but the sooner Maggitt is back to full strength the better chance Tennessee will have against the biggest guns on its schedule. No one is exactly sure how close Maggitt is to 100% after a November ACL tear, but the more we see of him Saturday the better. Tennessee's defense is noticeably better with him on the field.
2. Marquez North
Every year there's the one freshman that makes a splash in fall camp, and to no surprise it's been North this season. UT's highest rated recruit from February vaulted into the starting lineup in just a few weeks of work. Butch Jones and Mike Bajakian tend not to have one go-to receiver in their offenses, but instead a plethora of weapons. And the Vols have plenty of bodies at the position, most of them just as unproven as Mr. North. But ask fans who they're most excited to see among the playmakers, and #8 is going to win. A huge game against an FCS foe doesn't mean a lot, but it would certainly mean something. With freshmen, we're dying to overreact either way.
1. Justin Worley
We've seen #14 against sub-par competition before. Worley lit up MTSU in 2011 (23 of 32 for 291 and a touchdown). We'll worry about what he can do against better competition later. For now, if he's the starter, you want to see him perform well against Austin Peay, with or without good receivers (remember, against MTSU he was throwing to Da'Rick Rogers and not a whole lot else). But if he struggles? That's bad, friends. We've seen a starter perform poorly in the opener and be replaced before (Joey Mathews in 2000). We don't know how firm his grip on the starting job is, we don't know how many others will see meaningful snaps, but we do know if the coaching staff believes Worley is the man to lead this offense best right now, you want him to play well on Saturday.
What are you looking for against Austin Peay?