Virginia won three games last season, it was picked to finish last in the ACC this year, and the Cavaliers will start an FCS transfer at quarterback in its season opener against No. 10 Tennessee on Saturday in Nashville.
No wonder the Vols are a 28½-point favorite.
Josh Heupel’s teams are adept at steamrolling mediocre or meek opponents – anyone remember last season’s 56-point win over Vanderbilt? – and this matchup has the makings of a rout.
Not only is this a chance for Tennessee to start 1-0, it’s an opportunity to calm a few lingering concerns.
Joe Milton will grab the reins of Tennessee’s offense, but Milton’s performance isn’t an expected area of concern entering the season.
Here’s some areas to address against Virginia:
Prove the offensive line is in good shape. Already, the Vols needed to replace star offensive tackle Darnell Wright and veteran starting guard Jerome Carvin off last year’s team. Then, center Cooper Mays underwent a medical procedure. He’s questionable to play against Virginia. Not only would Mays’ absence shuffle the deck – Ollie Lane probably would slide into his spot – but it raises questions about whether the Vols’ up-tempo offense will function with the same pace, efficiency and cohesion. Plus, a center change always raises the possibility of snap issues, which can derail a drive.
Show some resistance in the secondary. Pass defense became an issue for Tennessee against several SEC opponents last season. The Vols will face better passing attacks than Virginia. So, a leaky pass defense against the Cavaliers could be cause for long-term concern. Alternatively, a pass defense that locks down UVA’s transfer quarterback Tony Muskett would be reason for optimism.
Is there a pass rush? Tennessee’s pass rush, led by Byron Young, proved especially influential in wins against LSU and Clemson. Young is gone to the NFL. Virginia’s offensive line can be exploited. This is a stage for new pass rushers to fill Young’s shoes.
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Blake Toppmeyer is the USA TODAY Network’s SEC Columnist. John Adams is the News Sentinel’s senior columnist. Adam Sparks covers the Vols. You can subscribe to read all their coverage, or check out the SEC Unfiltered newsletter, delivered straight to your inbox. They also host the lightly acclaimed “SEC Football Unfiltered” podcast.