Nashville, Tenn. and Nissan Stadium will serve as a “neutral” venue for the first-ever meeting between the Tennessee Volunteers and the Bowling Green Falcons on Saturday. Ironically, Bowling Green has been designated as the home team for this matchup, but any home-field advantage will most certainly lie with Tennessee playing in the heart of the Volunteer State.
Tennessee will head into their 2015 campaign riding a wave of media hype and fanfare that has gone unrivaled in the last decade of Tennessee football. A young Volunteers team only managed to go 7-6 overall in 2014, but they showed vast improvement down the stretch with Joshua Dobbs at quarterback. Tennessee won four of its last five contests in 2014, culminating in a lopsided victory over Iowa in the TaxSlayer Bowl.
The Volunteers also return the vast majority of their starters on both sides of the football, and they are stockpiled with a wealth of young talent following back-to-back recruiting classes ranked in the top 5 nationally.
Like Tennessee, Bowling Green also concluded last season on a high note, celebrating a memorable 33-28 victory over South Alabama in the Camellia Bowl. The Falcons, who finished the season at 8-6, are also the reigning Eastern Division champions in the MAC.
Bowling Green returns every starter from a successful offense that averaged 30 points and 433 yards per game last season. The BGSU defense is a different story entirely. The Falcons will only have three returning starters in place against the Vols from a defense that ranked 115th nationally in 2014.
Tennessee vs. Bowling Green (in Nashville, Tenn)
Kickoff: 4 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: SEC Network
Spread: Tennessee -20.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Are the Vols legit?
Bowling Green is far from being Tennessee’s biggest test of the season. However, the Falcons will serve as the first real measuring stick to see if the Vols are truly worthy of all the preseason hype. Not only as a team, but also for a select group of individual players who have been touted for huge seasons. QB Joshua Dobbs, RB Jalen Hurd, DE Derek Barnett, DE/LB Curt Maggitt, and CB Cameron Sutton are just a few of the talented Vol players that will be under the microscope on Saturday.
The Vols, collectively and individually, will need to turn in a dominate performance in order to validate the pre-season hype. Anything short of that will likely bring the naysayers out in full force.
2. Can the Bowling Green offense pose a challenge?
As previously mentioned, Bowling Green returns all of its starters on offense from 2014, also welcoming the return of quarterback Matt Johnson, who led the Falcons to a MAC championship in 2013, throwing for nearly 3,500 yards and 25 touchdowns.
The Falcons also boast a talented roster of skill players and a veteran offensive line. A few players of note include WR Roger Lewis, who had over 1,000 receiving yards in 2014, RB Travis Greene, who has amassed close to 2,600 rushing yards and 26 touchdowns over the previous two seasons, and RG Alex Huettel, who anchors the offensive line with 45 consecutive starts.
The Falcons fast paced hurry up offense averaged a blistering 84 plays per game in 2014, ranking second in the nation. Bowling Green Head Coach, Dino Babers, also likes to spread opposing defenses out by using multiple receiver sets that will force the Vols to play one-on-one coverage most of the game. Bowling Green’s lightning fast tempo and enigmatic offensive scheme could very well present some challenges for the Tennessee defense on Saturday.
3. Volunteer Newcomers
Tennessee head coach Butch Jones stated on Tuesday that the Vols could play as many as 22 true freshmen in Saturday’s matchup against BGSU. That doesn’t even include highly touted JUCO transfers, RB Alvin Kamara and DB Justin Martin, who also will make their Vol debut.
Impact freshmen such as DT Kahlil McKenzie, MLB Darrin Kirkland, DT Shy Tuttle, WR Jauan Jennings, DE Kyle Phillips, and WR Preston Williams are just a few of the players that will be on display from the Vols' mega-talented 2015 recruiting class.
Colton Jumper, who will start at MLB for the Vols, is also one to watch. While he is not technically a newcomer, the former walk-on will be making his first start and only his second appearance ever in a game for Tennessee.
The Bowling Green Falcons will bring plenty of firepower on offense to Nashville on Saturday, but the X factor for this matchup is the Falcons’ defense — or lack thereof. Everything that makes Bowling Green great on offense, it sorely lacks on the other side of the football. Even if the Falcon defense manages to show improvement under new defensive coordinator Brian Ward, they are still no match for the Vols’ offense.
Tennessee is just a far superior team overall. Expect a fast paced high scoring affair, with a valiant effort from the Bowling Green offense. But in the end, the Falcons can’t keep up the scoring pace with the Vols. Vegas nailed the point spread on this one.
Prediction: Tennessee 45, Bowling Green 24
— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. McVey is a diehard Tennessee Volunteers' fan who loves singing "Rocky Top" every opportunity he gets. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS