The first of two Chick-fil-A Kickoff Games in Atlanta this weekend will be strength vs. strength.
Tennessee's potent passing attack vs. N.C. State's stellar defensive backfield.
I know, I know, the departure of the Vols' star wide receiver Da'Rick Rogers threw a wrench in the works on Rocky Top, and the absence of N.C. State cornerback C.J. Wilson did the same for the Wolfpack.
Vol quarterback Tyler Bray is arguably the top pro prospect at quarterback in the SEC. Justin Hunter is probably Tennessee's best receiver anyway, and he will be joined outside by junior college transfer Cordarrelle Patterson, who has been the recipient of a copious amount of preseason hype.
On the other side, star N.C. State cornerback David Amerson safeties Earl Wolff and Brandan Bishop are the real deal, and can absolutely shut down any passing attack, including Tennessee's.
With strength going up against strength in the passing game, this one will boil down to Tennessee's running game.
That running game was atrocious last season, and that may be too kind.
The Vols finished last in the SEC with an average of 90.08 rushing yards per game—roughly 34 yards per game fewer than 11th place Kentucky.
That's not just bad, that's next-level bad.
Head coach Derek Dooley hopes that a veteran offensive line and the presence of Antonio "Tiny" Richardson at left tackle should alleviate some of those problems in front of running backs Rajion Neal and Devrin Young.
He better be right.
If Tennessee is going to vault back into SEC relevance, it isn't going to be via a stellar passing game. That's going to exist even after the departure of Rogers. It's going to be due to the ground game.
The Vols don't have to be at or near the top of the SEC in rushing, they just need to be average.
If the Vols are going to leave Atlanta with a 1-0 record, that needs to happen on Friday night.
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