Saturday, Sept 5, 4 p.m., ET
After failing to reach a ranking in a season opening poll since 2008 (No. 18), the Tennessee volunteers begin their 2015 season at No. 25. To maintain that ranking or improve, the Vols will need to handle a challenge from Mid-American Conference foe Bowling Green.
The Falcons are coming off an 8-6 season that saw BG reach the MAC Championship game despite losing first string quarterback Matt Johnson part way through the 2014 season opener.
After a poor showing in the title contest (51-17 loss to Northern Illinois), BG rebounded for a 33-28 win over South Alabama in the Camellia Bowl.
Bowling Green was tabbed the MAC East favorite in a media preseason media poll, as writers recognized the Falcons weapons. Tennessee brings some weapons as well. Let’s take a look at the two teams.
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► The Volunteers are coached by former Central Michigan head coach Butch Jones. His squad went 7-6 (3-5 SEC) last year, moving his record to 12-13 after two seasons at the helm.
► This game will be played in Nashville (instead of Knoxville). It’s the third contest for a Vols team in Nissan Stadium, but UT has won 20 consecutive season openers played in Tennessee. It is 40-20-4 all-time in games played in Nashville. Bowling Green and Nashville are meeting for the first time.
► The Vols had 12 true freshmen start games in 2014 and set a school record with seven true freshman starters against Missouri. In all, Tennessee played 23 freshmen over the course of the year. That was the most for any FBS program in the nation.
► Tennessee scored 28.9 ppg last season. Bowling Green was at 30.0 ppg.
► UT registered 168.4 ypg rushing and 224.2 ypg passing the ball.
► Jalen Hurd (6-4, 220) led the Vols in rushing last season as a freshman, carrying the ball 190 times for 899 yards (4.7 ypc) with five TDs. He also registered 35 receptions for 221 more yards and two TDs.
► Quarterback Joshua Dobbs (6-3, 207) is also a capable runner. Seeing action in the last half of the season, the junior rushed for 469 yards on 104 carries with a high of 166 yards with three TDs in a 45-42 overtime win over South Carolina. He completed 63.3 percent of his passes on the season (112-for-177), totaling 1,206 yards in six games. He threw nine TDs and six interceptions.
► Tennessee has a strong receiving group. Pig Howard and Von Pearson combined for 92 catches with 1,011 yards and six TDs. Marquez North is a dynamic receiver coming back of an injury in the latter part of 2014.
► Linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin had a breakout season in 2014, leading the team with 101 tackles (11.0 TFL, 2 sacks). Curt Maggitt is a 2015 Preseason All-SEC First Team selection. He had a team-high 11 sacks and 15 TFL last year. A solid defensive line in front of them could be even better this year.
► Cornerback Cameron Sutton and safety Brian Randolph are part of a secondary that could be among the SEC’s best.
► Aaron Medley was super-effective kicking from 40-yards in last year and is working on extending his range. There are seveal candidates for punting duties following the departure of Matt Darr.
► Matt Johnson is back! That is not good news for opponents if Johnson comes close to his 2013 season. He completed 64.2 percent of his passes that year for 3,467 yards with 25 touchdowns and just seven interceptions on 369 attempts. He missed virtually all of 2015 with an injury in the first game. James Knapke is a more than capable backup.
► There are plenty of good targets as the top four receivers return. Roger Lewis was the first freshman in school history to surpass the 1,000-yad mark. Ronnie Moore, Gehrig Dieter and Ryan Burbrink should get the starting call with more talent behind that.
► Senior Travis Green (5-10, 189) rushed for nearly 1,000 yards last year after a 1,594-yard season in 2013. He’s registered 23 TDs over the past two years. Fred Coppett (5-9, 205) added 764 yards rushing to the offense while scoring six TDs last season.
► The offensive line is a key part of the Falcons success. The same five linemen started all 14 games last year, and they all return.
► Seven starters are gone off a defense that finished nexgt-to-last (MAC) in scoring defense last year, so this is an area of both question marks and some concern. The Falcons allowed 33.5 ppg and 493.1 ypg.
► Tyler Tate was successful on 23 of 29 FG attempts in 2014. Punter Joseph Davidson got a workout last year when he hit 14 punts of 50 or more yards.