Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley
It goes without saying that the 2012 season is a big one on Rocky Top.
The Tennessee Volunteers enter the season with a coach on the hot seat, a new defensive coordinator and high expectations that, in reality, aren't that unrealistic.
The offensive line should be better now that it has another year of conditioning under its belt. Da'Rick Rogers and Justin Hunter combine for a one-two punch at wide receiver that is the best in college football outside of USC, and Tyler Bray may have the most upside of any quarterback in the SEC.
The season could hinge on the August 31 matchup vs. N.C. State at the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in Atlanta. According to John Adams of GoVolsXtra.com, Tennessee's players recognize this.
As they should.
N.C. State may not have the prestige of Notre Dame, Oregon and other somewhat recent Tennessee out-of-conference games, but the game against the Wolfpack could send the Vols' season in a variety of different directions.
The Wolfpack came on strong towards the end of last season, winning six of their final eight games—including a 37-13 thrashing of then-No. 7 Clemson. Quarterback Mike Glennon is as legitimate of an All-American candidate as anyone in the ACC, including Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas, Clemson's Tajh Boyd and Florida State's E.J. Manuel.
Should Tennessee take N.C. State seriously?
Glennon threw for 3,054 yards, 31 touchdowns and 12 interceptions last season. That's not just something you brush off with the "in the ACC" excuse.
Passing is Tennessee's bread and butter, but the presence of cornerback David Amerson and safety Earl Wolff could make the Wolfpack secondary one of the ACC's best.
This could be a make-or-break game for Tennessee, and it is treating it the right way.
Win it, and the Vols could be on to bigger and better things, especially if any team finds a way to upset Georgia. Lose it, and the Vols' season could spiral out of control in a hurry.