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Staff Picks: Vols vs Bowling Green

The Rocky Top Talk staff members give their predictions for the Vols' opening matchup against Bowling Green.

Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

For those of you who were around last year, we're dropping the Friday Locks post where we talk about picking random college football games and replacing it with a post where we pick Tennessee's game. Mostly because (1) you're here to read about Tennessee, and (2) it appears that picking Tennessee games will be a lot more fun this year than it has been in a while.

Every week, the staff members will give their score predictions and a brief analysis, and we'll track their performance straight up and against the spread. Simple enough, right? You've already seen plenty of analysis of Tennessee's team and the sort of challenge posed by the Falcons, so there is no need for more preamble. How will the Vols fare against Bowling Green? On to the picks!

Incipient: I see the first game of the 2015 season looking a lot like the first game of 2015. Butch Jones has a tendency to get out of the gate strong in week one, having won his last four openers by 24 or more points. Granted, two of those were against Austin Peay, but the other two had point spreads of less than a touchdown and were no less blowouts. Tennessee's defense is going to take a step forward this season, and we're going to see it in the first half, holding a solid mid-major offense to one score, while an offense that feasted on mediocre defenses late last season will have a field day against Bowling Green, jumping out to a 35-7 lead at halftime. But while the Vols' depth has improved, a vanilla defense in the second half coupled with third-stringers getting snaps will allow a fast-paced Falcons offense to put up some garbage time points and keep the final margin from ballooning into the 30s. Tennessee 52 Bowling Green 28.

Hunter: Bowling Green won the MAC East, a bowl game, and finished with a better record than Tennessee, but make no mistake, the Vols will win this game and it won't be close. Unlike recent mid-major opponents like Arkansas State, Utah State, and Western Kentucky, Bowling Green is a football Decepticon: decidedly less than meets the eye. The Falcons played two top-50 S&P+ opponents last year and lost by a combined score of 127-48 (L to Wisconsin 17-68 and L to the aforementioned Western Kentucky 31-59). Head coach Dino Babers installed an uptempo passing attack in his first year on the job, but without the players to implement his playbook, the Falcons lacked both explosiveness and efficiency in the passing game, finishing an abysmal 109th in passing S&P+. Bowling Green performed better when running the ball (76th in rushing S&P+), but all of that inefficient offense put pressure on an already wretched defense (106th in defensive S&P+). Bowling Green's passing attack won't find it any easier to gain ground against a Tennessee defense that finished 2014 ranked 16th in defensive S&P+ and returns numerous starters.

Bottomline: The Vols played six opponents last year ranked lower than 50th in S&P+, and gave up an average of only 16.16 points per game, with Iowa topping the charts by scoring 28. Bowling Green is extremely unlikely to score more than 14-17 points against a Tennessee defense that sports a vastly improved pass rush and a secondary that returns six players who played in all thirteen games. Can the Falcons overcome a horrible 2014, a new defensive coordinator, and numerous new defensive starters to hold the Vols below 35 points?

Uh, no. Tennessee rolls. Tennessee 35 Bowling Green 13.

Chris: Being able to give a reasoned line on this implies I've actually paid attention to Bowling Green during the offseason, which ....yeah. Let's not assume. From what everyone else is saying, Bowling Green will try and play with tempo, which: I suppose.

Let's drop in with 38-10, the gas getting eased up on late in the third quarter, and some vaguely-looking garbage time score from Bowling Green to get to those aforementioned double digits. Tennessee 38 Bowling Green 10.

Charlie: Bowling Green will have a solid, lightening fast offense. They return 10 of 11 starters on their offensive unit including two experienced QBs and a quality set of wide receivers. Their defense, on the other hand, will be hot garbage. They lost 7 defensive starters to graduation from a unit that finished 12th in the MAC in total defense and allowed 494 yards of total offense per game in 2014.

Tennessee's potent offense should be able to put up plenty of points and the Vols defense should be able to hold down Bowling Green's offensive attack. Tennessee 45 Bowling Green 17.

Nathanael: Bowling Green should have one of the better offenses the Vols have seen from an opening opponent in a while. The Falcons have quality players at every level on the offensive side of the ball, and don't be surprised if they throw out some plays the Vols haven't seen before to start the game and maybe even steal a quick score or two. But Tennessee's defense is too talented to let up more than that with the starters in, and Bowling Green's defense may be one of the worst the Vols face all season. Tennessee could name its score in this one, but they'll likely remove most of their starters before the end of the 3rd quarter. Tennessee 45 Bowling Green 17.

Joel: Already wrote an entire article on this subject. Tennessee 45 Bowling Green 13.

Will: We shouldn't be surprised if the Vols drop 50 or 60+ against Bowling Green's defense and the tempo the Falcons love.  But given what Butch did in the Taxslayer Bowl in removing his foot from the pedal midway through the third quarter, and his insistence on getting Quinten Dormady some early reps, I'm not sure we'll get a full three or four quarters of Tennessee's offense in high gear.  Likewise I think Bowling Green scores enough for us not to leave this game feeling like we've got the second coming of 1998 on defense, even if it's with sheer volume of snaps and more willingness to play second team guys on defense.  But I don't expect any lengthy drama from this one:  build the lead, get your best players' legs under them, and let's get ready for Oklahoma. Tennessee 45 Bowling Green 20

Rocky Top Talk Staff Average: Tennessee 44 Bowling Green 17

Vegas (for reference): Tennessee -21.5. Over/under 69. Tennessee 45 Bowling Green 24