Tennessee already had a tricky opponent on the schedule for Week 1, and the Vols have decided that they're going to step into the spotlight for that matchup in front of a curious audience.
The Vols announced on Tuesday that their Week 1 matchup with Utah State at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville will be pushed back one day to Sunday, Aug. 31, and will kick off at 7 p.m. on the new SEC Network.
"The atmosphere and energy in Knoxville will be unrivaled," head coach Butch Jones said in a release from Tennessee. "We're also excited about being one of the schools featured on the first weekend of SEC Network football telecasts, and we are looking forward to this tremendous opportunity."
Good move for Tennessee?
No, it's a great move.
The SEC Network will show at least six games on opening weekend, including two on Thursday, Aug. 28 (Texas A&M vs. South Carolina and Temple vs. Vanderbilt), and SEC Nation, the SEC Network's "GameDay clone," will originate from Auburn on Saturday, Aug. 30 before the Tigers host Arkansas.
Opening weekend combined with the launch of the SEC Network on Aug. 14 has allowed the SEC to own opening weekend and create a four-day football festival across the Southeast.
Not only will Tennessee be a part of that festival, it'll now be a featured part in prime time on Sunday night against an opponent that can absolutely spring the upset.
Utah State isn't a power, but the Aggies are tricky.
They should get electric quarterback Chuckie Keeton back after an ACL tear ended his 2013 season prematurely. SEC fans remember the Aggies from their near-upset of then-defending national champion Auburn in the season-opener in 2011, but they've also topped Utah, taken Wisconsin and USC to the wire, and beaten a ranked Louisiana Tech team over the last three seasons.
They're not a pushover by any means, and a good performance by the Vols should resonate across the country.
Is it a risk?
Sure it is. The first two games on Tennessee's schedule should be considered "tricky," as both Utah State and Arkansas State will make the trek to Rocky Top.
But this Tennessee team needs to know about itself before hitting the meat of its schedule, when it travels to Norman, Okla., in Week 3. Creating a big-game atmosphere on the opening weekend—even if that's a bit of a stretch—will benefit this young Vols team that will play Oklahoma, Georgia, Florida, Ole Miss, Alabama and South Carolina this season.
It needs to be ready, and Utah State on a Sunday night in front of a national audience (and yes, it will be a national audience on the SEC Network once carriage deals are completed) will provide Jones an opportunity to find out a lot about his team.
*Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report.
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