One game that is flying under the radar of the national scene this upcoming Saturday is Cincinnati at Tennessee. However, it shouldn't be, as this is a pivotal game for many reasons. Both teams are under second-year head coaches looking to re-establish their programs.
The Bearcats, who went to back-to-back BCS bowls before crashing down to a 4-8 season last year, are trying to prove that they are ready to regain their place at the top of the Big East. Meanwhile, Derek Dooley's Volunteers are trying to break out of mediocrity and show they are ready to once again compete in the SEC.
Here are 10 storylines to watch this Saturday.
Senior Zach Collaros will lead the Bearcats.
The battle of the quarterbacks will be huge this Saturday. Sophomore Tyler Bray will lead the Volunteers attack while senior Zach Collaros will key Cincy's spread attack. Last week against Austin Peay, Cincinnati put up 72 points in an emphatic fashion.
Bray exploded onto the scene during the second half of UT's season last year, and has thrown for 18 touchdowns in his first six starts but has yet to really be tested. Collaros is in his second year as the full-time starter after throwing for 2,902 yards and 26 TDs last year.
Two of the most talented athletes on the Tennessee offense are sophomore wideouts Da'Rick Rogers and Justin Hunter. The pair both went for over a hundred yards and a touchdown against Montana last Saturday. Their production will be the key to UT keeping up with Cincy's spread attack.
Tennessee played a spread attack last week in Montana but, as nose tackle Daniel Hood put it, Cincinnati runs the same stuff just with a lot better players.
Justin Wilcox had his Tennessee defense in nickel coverage for 50 percent of its snaps against Montana last week, and will probably spend even more time out of its base defense against the Bearcats. Meaning, a lot of pressure will fall on nickle linebacker Daryl Vereen and and the nickle defensive back Eric Gordon to perform.
Stewart brings down Tebow in 2010 Sugar Bowl
Tennessee has a very talented, but extremely young offensive line. Cincinnati has re-built their pass-rush by moving Walter Stewart from linebacker to end. The Cincy coaches are excited about the 6'5" 244-pound junior, and should provide the young UT O-line its first test of the season.
Cincy's ability to pressure Tyler Bray will be huge on the outcome of the game. A solid pass-rush by the D-line will take a lot of pressure off a defense that gave up 28 points a game last year.
Tennessee's rushing attack was disappointing against Montana last week. UT hopes to correct that this week. Senior running back Tauren Poole will be a key to what Coach Dooley hopes will be an improved rushing attack that will allow UT to control time of possession and keep Collaros and company off the field.
Cincinnati lead the Big East in turnovers last season, which often slowed down what should have been a high-powered offense. Tennessee also fumbled five times against Montana. Whoever can capitalize on turnovers in this game could be the difference in what figures to be a very competitive game.
Both Cincinnati and Tennessee will be relying on freshmen this week. Tennessee starts three freshmen on defense: linebackers Curt Maggitt and A.J. Johnson, as well as cornerback Justin Coleman who was responsible for one of Montana's touchdowns.
The Bearcats will be looking for production from running back Jameel Poteat and wide receiver Shaq Washington. If the Vols' young players lose their matchups, it will be big day for the Cincy offense.
Butch Jones is looking for major improvement
Both coaches are in pivotal seasons. Dooley needs to show improvement and that he has Tennessee on the right track, while Butch Jones needs to show his hiring wasn't a complete disaster. His team still retains a lot of the talent that had it go undefeated during the regular season and a Big East championship.
Orange Faithful can get rowdy.
Cincinnati coach Butch Jones has the song Rocky Top blaring through the speakers at Nippert Stadium all week, getting his Bearcats ready for their trip to Tennessee on Saturday. Neyland Stadium has stunned some non-conference opponents in the past (see: Cal 2006) while others have been able to handle it more professionally, such as UCLA. How Collaros handles the intensity of the crowd will have a huge impact on Cincy's fortunes.
Malik Jackson is the lone All-SEC player on the UT defense. The pass-rushing defensive tackle will be the key to a pass-rush that will have to pressure and contain Zach Collaros and make sure he doesn't have time to pick apart the young Vols defense.