2012 Fearless Predictions
Week 1 - Tenn vs. NC State
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Tennessee (0-0) vs. NC State (0-0)
Aug. 31, 7:30, ESPNU
Here's The Deal: When Tennessee squares off with NC State in Atlanta on Friday night, only Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy will be feeling more heat in the building than Vols head coach Derek Dooley. Although he's only been in Knoxville for two years, an 11-14 mark is going to put a man firmly on the hot seat in a town like Knoxville. Last year's edition of the Volunteers finished 1-7 in SEC play, fueling a palpable sense of urgency to start fast in 2012. If Tennessee stumbles out of the gate, in a game that'll reach a national audience, it's liable to set an ominous tone for the coach and his players.
Winners of 17 games over the last two seasons, NC State is hoping to maintain its recent trend, even upping it if possible this fall. Head coach Tom O'Brien finally has the Pack pointing in the direction after falling short in his first few years in Raleigh. This is the type of game, with the right opponent and setting, that's capable of propelling State if it delivers an upset. It could also provide a nice shot in the arm to the ACC, which rarely gets the better of the SEC in head-to-head matchups.
Why Tennessee Might Win: Dooley's fate could rest on the right arm of Tyler Bray, a quarterback capable of becoming an NFL scout magnet if he can stay healthy for the entire year. The junior possesses many of the physical skills inherent to elite quarterbacks. He has the 6-6 frame to cleanly survey the entire field, and the big arm to reach all of his receivers. And about those receivers, they might be the most lethal in America this side of the Los Angeles Coliseum. The duo of Justin Hunter and blue-chip JUCO import Cordarrelle Patterson flashes the size, skills and athleticism to cause nightmares for opposing coordinators. Plus, Bray should get the time he needs to find the open man as he drops back behind a veteran O-line returning four of last season's starters.
Why NC State Might Win: The Pack features a next-level quarterback of its own, Mike Glennon, and a few answers to that UT passing attack. Glennon, too, goes 6-6, and is also attracting pro evaluators as he enters his final year on campus. While his targets aren't nearly as potent as Tennessee's, WR Tobais Palmer is capable of reaching the end zone multiple times, especially if the Vols are unable to mount a pass rush for a second straight year. Defensively, NC State is one of a handful of teams in the country that won't wilt at the site of the Volunteers receivers. All four of last year's starting defensive backs return, including ball-hawking, All-American CB David Amerson. Amerson is good enough to seal off half the field on Bray, and his three teammates in the secondary are all savvy seniors.
What To Watch Out For: Both teams desperately want to ignite their running games after finishing no higher than 109th nationally a year ago. But will it happen at the Georgia Dome? Neither program excels at run blocking, and the stable of runners, while capable, won't strike fear into the opposition. Tennessee will use an amalgam of Marlin Lane between the tackles and burners Rajion Neal and Devrin Young outside of them. NC State is staging a full-blown battle for snaps now that oft-injured Mustafa Greene is back to compete with Tony Creecy and last year's leading rusher James Washington.
What Will Happen: For fans of the NFL Draft, Friday night's feature attraction qualifies as a can't-miss event; both Bray and Glennon could be competing for a spot in next April's first round when they square off in Atlanta.
The quarterbacks will take center stage in the opener, and will surely have a profound impact on the outcome. However, it's at wide receiver and linebacker where Tennessee will gain the edge that leads to a momentous victory. While Palmer can be doubled, if necessary, without repercussions, the Pack will have no such luxury against the Volunteers wideouts. On defense, State was gutted at linebacker in the offseason, which will allow UT to pick up decent yardage running the ball on first down. The Vols, on the other hand, will be sneaky-good at the second level now that Herman Lathers is healthy, and Curt Maggitt and A.J. Johnson are no longer rookies. The quarterbacks may be a wash, but Tennessee's better overall team will deliver a pivotal win for a desperate coaching staff.
CFN Prediction: Tennessee 34 … NC State 26
ATS Consultants Line (Click for more lines and picks) Tennessee -3.5; O/U: 52.5
Must Watch Rating (5 – Boss, 1 - Married To Jonas): 4