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Tennessee vs Bowling Green Preview: And Light The Fires

Week one should provide ample opportunity for the Vols to pick up right where they left off.

Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Here's a number to keep in mind tomorrow:  95.  That's the school record for offensive snaps in a single game, set last fall at South Carolina in the game when the momentum we're still riding was born.  Since then the Vols made a bowl game for the first time in four years, won one for the first time in seven, and dominated in a way that has resonated all the way to September.  Add in another top five recruiting class, a quarterback with odds for the Heisman, and an Eastern Division that could be taken, and you've got the most excitement we've felt 24 hours before kickoff since Phillip Fulmer roamed the sideline.

It will come quickly, the images of Jacksonville replaced with the images of Nashville.  And it will come especially quickly against Bowling Green, with those 95 plays potentially stretching into something with three digits.  Being the third fastest team in college football comes with plenty of opportunity for the other sideline, and last year there were plenty of takers against Bowling Green:

  • Western Kentucky:  96 plays, 708 yards, 7.3 yards per play, 59 points
  • UMass:  92 plays, 638 yards, 6.9 yards per play, 42 points
  • Northern Illinois:  100 plays, 552 yards, 5.52 yards per play, 51 points
You'll note none of those teams hail from a major conference.  When the Falcons played Wisconsin, who runs one of the slowest offenses in college football, this happened:
  • Wisconsin:  78 plays, 756 yards, 9.6 yards per play, 68 points
So it's not a stretch to say Tennessee, who aspires to run one of the fastest offenses in college football, could throw up something with a 5 or 6 in front of it on the scoreboard tomorrow.  I'm not sure there will be cause for panic if they don't, nor should there be echoes of 15-0 if they do (though good luck stopping either outcome).  But the season opener should present the opportunity for the thing fans most want to see after eight months of waiting:  Tennessee's talent on full display.

Against this defense at this pace, we should get a multitude of chances for Josh Dobbs, Jalen Hurd, Alvin Kamara, and a host of wide receivers to shine.  The best things we want to believe about this offense we should still be able to believe come Sunday morning, except with much more recent data and new memories.  The Vol defense may give up some points via Bowling Green's experience, Tennessee's banged up secondary, or just the sheer volume of plays.  But it too should have an opportunity to make new memories.  All of this will only last one week; the real answers about the Vols will walk into Neyland Stadium on September 12.  But this should be an entertaining opening act.

We've said the biggest question about this season is, "Yeah, but how much progress?"  The Vols will be better, but how much better?  We'll spend the next 13 weeks getting the answer, but on this, the final day of Tennessee's off-season, we celebrate how the questions have changed one last time.  Four of the last five years we've come to this point believing Tennessee was somewhere between a 5-7 and 7-5 team, with optimism driving hopes to 8-4 a couple times before kickoff but then being silenced before October.  The other time we believed the Vols could be something like they could be this season, but it was laced with a fear that we might be wrong and the unsettled future if we were.  And we were, and it was.  But into that future walked Butch Jones.  And now, after two more years of trying to turn 5-7 into 7-5, we come to week one believing the Vols could win every time they walk on the field.  It's been a long time.

Butch and the Vols have spent two years kicking the tires.  Poking, prodding, finding leaks and plugging them with better players.  Sometimes we've been pleasantly surprised in these last two years, stealing a win here and finding reason to be optimistic there.  And other times we've fallen flat, beaten by much better teams or much better depth.  We might still like a little more tread on our tires.  But we're ready now to start the engines and see just how far she'll fly for real.  It might be just a little further.  It might go all the way to Atlanta.  But it should start each Saturday with confidence.  And on its first run of the season, there should be plenty of room to soar.

Go Vols.