NC State vs. Tennessee is a good kickoff matchup on paper. Both teams have talented quarterbacks, neither had much of a run game last year and they both should have improvements on defense.
Game time is set for Friday, August 31st and kickoff is 7:30 PM. ESPNU will carry the game live.
The teams are currently in their fall camps, working on everything football. As the calendar turns to the 20th, they will start concentrating more and more on their starting lineups. By Friday, the 24th, practices will begin to take on a game-week pace.
Although the official lines haven't been set by the guys who do it for a living, my best guess is the line for this game will be very close—about a single point or two one way or the other.
The fan base of both teams is fairly confident about their team's chances to win. With that thought in mind, let's analyze the two teams and see if you agree with me that the game should be a good one.
The Wolfpack is coming into the year with the second-most starting experience (112 total starts) in the FBS. The Tennessee line comes close to matching that stat, with 105 total career starts. That said, neither line produced well in the run game last year.
NC State Head Coach Tom O'Brien calls this line his best since he arrived at NC State in 2007. On the surface, that sounds really good when you consider the great offensive lines O'Brien's Boston College teams had. Digging a little deeper, you will see the best line he has had at State (2008) only averaged 3.6 yards per carry and gave up 29 sacks.
For Tennessee, last season this line helped the run game average 2.8 yards per carry (NC State, 3.0) and allowed 18 sacks (NC State 34). The average rushing yards-per-game were 90 for the Vols to 105 for NC State.
Both teams should have much improved lines in 2012. Considering a lot more goes into the overall sack total than just the line play, plus NC State did average just a touch more running, these two units look very close at this point.
Neither team had a 1,000-yard back last year. NC State had one that came close, though. James Washington, a 6'0", 186-pound senior, had 897 yards last year. He and redshirt sophomore, Tony Creecy (6'0", 210 lbs., 387 yards in 2011) figure to be the first two this year.
For the Vols, the likely first two include sophomore Marlin Lane, who started three games, had 280 yards rushing and 161 receiving. Rajion Neal is a junior who started three games and rushed for 134 yards with 269 in receiving. Last year's leading rusher for UT, Tauren Poole, who ran for 693 total yards, has graduated.
Neither team uses the fullback as a runner very much.
Again, at first glance, you have to figure these two units are a push. Or, some may even lean a little toward the Wolfpack due to experience. Here is why I see different.
Each year, Phil Steele ranks the previous season's schedule and compiles a toughest schedule list for all 120 FBS teams. According to the rankings for 2011 (Phil Steele's 2012 College Football Preview, page 327), Tennessee's schedule ranked No. 7 most difficult in the nation, while NC State's ranked No. 71.
That is a very big difference in the defenses these teams faced.
Senior Mike Glennon, 6'6", 232 lbs., threw for 3,054 yards, 31 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in 2011. He took over the starting job from Russell Wilson, who had a great season at Wisconsin last year. He is a good quarterback—very good.
Tennessee starts junior Tyler Bray, who many keep reporting has had injury issues throughout his Tennessee career. I don't know where that comes from, but I do know it is not correct.
Bray's only injury that caused him to miss playing time (as my records indicate) occured last year. He broke a finger on his throwing hand in the Georgia game. As a result, he missed five games. In seven starts last year he threw for 1,983 yards, 17 touchdowns and had 6 interceptions.
Bray is also a good quarterback—very good.
In returning experience, these teams appear to be very close. In terms of 2011 offensive production, NC State has a small edge in average total yards gained per game—345 to 333.
Those 12 yards per game difference is small. And after all, it is the scoring that counts, right? Ultimately, sure it is, but that was really an eye-opener. Tennessee averaged 20.3 points per game, while NC State averaged 28.2. That is a big difference.
So, we dug a little deeper.
Against bowl quality defensive teams, NC State averaged 24 points per game. Against bowl quality defensive teams, with Bray starting at quarterback (Georgia included), Tennessee averaged 27 points per game.
Edge: Slight edge to Tennessee.
Next up, we will compare the defenses, inside the numbers.