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Tennessee Volunteers v. Western Kentucky Hilltoppers: game preview

Watch out!
He's got a towel!

Call it the Battle of the Babes. The Tussle of the Toddlers. The Clash of the Cherubs. Whatever.

A new era of Tennessee Volunteers football begins tomorrow when Lane Kiffin, the youngest coach in the FBS (that's the big league, or Division I, for all of us old-timers), hosts the newest team in the FBS in Neyland Stadium. The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers rid the college football world of the burden of remembering odd numbers and make it an even 120 teams by becoming the newest member of the FBS.

Evaluating a newborn is a bit of a challenge. Generally, we can only smile and coo and attempt to gauge the health of the thing by the appearance of its poo. While this can be much more interesting than non-parents would think, it's not really a science.

Of course, Tennessee, which has the honor of being the first team to play on the brand-spankin' new SEC Network, is a youth movement of its own. Not only is Kiffin young for an FBS head coach, his team features nine true freshmen on the two-deep depth chart, which when you think about it is great news considering that the new guys don't know what it's like to start two consecutive seasons with pants.

I'm exaggerating about Western Kentucky, of course. Yes, this is their first year in the FBS, but they do actually have a significant football history. The Hilltoppers have had 59 winning seasons in 90 tries, and they've ventured into SEC venues six times in the last six years for games against Alabama, Kentucky, Florida, Georgia, and Auburn (twice). They've also played at Virginia Tech.

But they are still young much in the same way that Tennessee is in some aspects young. There are only two seniors projected to start for WKU on defense, and five true freshmen are likely to see playing time on that side of the ball. Fifty-seven of their 85 scholarship players are either true freshmen, redshirt freshmen, or sophomores. The Hilltoppers do have seniors at the skill positions on offense, including quarterback Brandon Smith, running back Tyrell Hayden, and wide receiver in Jack Gaebler, the latter of whom ranks third on WKU's career list.

And . . . Holy Cow! . . . 400+ comments for South Carolina vs. N.C. State? I have to hurry this thing along!

[shifts gears]

Key matchups

UT's DBs vs. WKU's WRs. Except for Eric Berry, we're inexperienced (but talented) in the secondary. Watch to see how we do against WKU's mostly upperclassmen receivers.

UT's RBs vs. WKU's LBs. If WKU's defense has any experience, it's at linebacker. How they do trying to stop our running game will be key.

Amusing WK facts

  • WKU's logo made RTT's list of the Unscariest College Football Logos. It's a towel! Yeah, it's red, which means it's angry, and it's being . . . gasp! . . . grasped! There's actually a story behind this, but you'll need to buy RTT2009 for that. ;-) Or, you can just find it online. (See? We're not VolQuest or Inside Tennessee, here. You don't have to "go inside" or pay extra to become an "Nsider." Everything's free!)
  • We haven't made a list of stupid/cool/bad/boring mascots yet, but when we do, we know where we'll start:


    Is that Burt Reynolds in there?
  • Mike Hamilton may not have sold all of the UT season tickets he wanted to this season, but at least we're not selling them door-to-door for $30.
  • WKU has a senior CB who's first name is Jihad. Jussayin'.

All right, then. On to the other morning posts, and then to join y'all for the Oregon vs. Boise St. game.