After a disappointing 5-7 campaign last season that saw starting quarterback Tyler Bray miss five games due to injury, Tennessee is looking to rebound in 2012-2013, and it starts against N.C. State.
N.C. State finished 8-5 last season behind solid play by quarterback Mike Glennon and an outstanding secondary led by David Amerson. The Wolfpack's most impressive victory was against then-No. 7 Clemson on November 19.
Here's a look at each team's season opener on Friday.
Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta, GA
When: Friday, August 31 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Live Streaming: WatchESPN
Betting Line: Tennessee -3.5, via Bovada
What's At Stake?
Tennessee will be looking to get off to a fast start in the loaded SEC under the leadership of junior quarterback Tyler Bray, who was mighty impressive last season.
Bray threw for 1,983 yards and 17 touchdowns to six interceptions in just seven games. That included throwing for 288 yards and three touchdowns at Florida (albeit with two interceptions).
After going a disappointing 5-7 last season (1-4 SEC), this is a game the Volunteers need to take before facing the heavy hitters down the road.
N.C. State is coming off an 8-5 campaign (4-4 ACC). With Florida State and Clemson down the road, the Wolfpack are hoping they can eke this one out. They are unfamiliar with Tennessee so it's going to be an interesting game. The team lost three of its first five games last season.
Senior quarterback Mike Glennon will look to follow up a tremendous season in which he threw for over 3,000 yards with 31 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
Injury Report (via USA Today)
None to report
WR Bryan Underwood - Knee - OUT indefinitely
LB Michael Peek - Knee - OUT for season
What They're Saying
The buzz around Tennessee surrounds former star receiver Da'Rick Rogers, who was suspended indefinitely last week after violating the school's substance abuse policy. He's reportedly going to transfer to Tennessee Tech, via Yahoo! Sports.
Rogers racked up 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns last season with Bray and the Volunteers. Juniors Justin Hunter and newcomer Cordarrelle Patterson will try to fill the void. Hunter finished with 314 yards and two touchdowns last season.
Everybody is buzzing about N.C. State's secondary this season, complete with junior David Amerson.
As ESPN points out, just three years ago the unit allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 62.6 percent of their passes, while notching just eight interceptions.
Last season? Amerson, Brandan Bishop, Earl Wolff and C.J. Wilson combined for 27 interceptions while holding opposing quarterbacks to 57.5 percent passing. Amerson collected 13 interceptions himself, one shy of tying the FBS record.
All four starters return this season for the Wolfpack.
Tennessee Player to Watch: Tyler Bray, QB
If Bray can stay healthy this season, who knows what the Volunteers can do. He missed five games due to injury last season, with Tennessee plummeting from 3-2 to 4-6 during that span. Most of those losses were blowouts, including a 49-7 spanking at the hands of Arkansas on November 12.
The Volunteers already have some worries in the receiving corps. If they lose Bray again, it could get ugly in the big and bad SEC.
NC State Player to Watch: Mike Glennon, QB
I debated putting David Amerson in this spot, but the depth of the secondary suggests that it's going to be a dominant effort by the entire unit.
Instead, I'll go with Mike Glennon.
If Glennon can make even more strides this season, N.C. State has the potential to do something big in the ACC. Remember, the Wolfpack shocked then-No. 7 Clemson last November 37-13.
Glennon threw for 253 yards and three touchdowns in that game. In his next two games, he combined for 570 passing yards with eight touchdowns to two interceptions as the Wolfpack finished the season on a 3-0 run and captured the Belk Bowl.
Key Matchup: Tennessee Passing Game vs. NC State Secondary
Tyler Bray is going to have his hands full lined up opposite Amerson and Co. on Friday. Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd was on a roll last season before throwing two picks to Amerson and Bishop.
Then again, Bray is quite the handful himself. He threw for 293 yards and three touchdowns to open last season against Montana. He may not have Rogers at his disposal anymore, but he's a solid quarterback.
Prediction: N.C. State 27, Tennessee 20
The betting line may favor Tennessee, but N.C. State has some weapons on both sides of the ball this season and I like the secondary a lot.
I think Amerson and Co. will frustrate Bray to an extent and Glennon will pick up where he left off last season as the Wolfpack cruise to a well-deserved victory at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
Tweet me your thoughts. Tweet, tweet.