The University of Tennessee Volunteers will help kick off the 2012 College Football betting season when they arrive in Atlanta to play in the annual Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic against the North Carolina State University Wolfpack.
Since Tennessee won back-to-back SEC championship in the ate 90′s, the Georgia Dome has not bestowed fond memories for the Vols, who have lost three Chick-fil-A Bowls, two SEC championships, and a shot at berth in a BCS title game against LSU in 2001.
So, can the Volunteers break this Georgia Dome curse? They will surely have their work cut out for them, as they face a talented North Carolina State squad.
For the Wolfpack it will all begin with an offensive line that arrives in Atlanta with the second-most starting experience (112 total starts) in the FBS. That will no doubt give senior quarterback Mike Glennon some confidence to settle into the pocket, and take his time delivering the ball to his wideouts. Glennon, who threw for 3,054 yards, 31 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in 2011 after taking over the starting job from Russell Wilson, will once again be heavily relied upon to make up for what is sure to be another less than impressive year from a mediocre North Carolina State running game. In fact, neither team here had a 1,000-yard back last season.
So that means that Tennessee will also rely on its passing game, and at the heart of it will be junior quarterback Tyler Bray, who threw for 1,983 yards, and 17 touchdowns in seven starts last year. Contrary to popular opinion, Bray is a very good quarterback, and if not for suffering a broken a finger on his throwing hand in a game against Georgia, forcing him to miss five games, would have likely finished the 2011 campaign with over 3,000 passing yards. He also had just six interceptions. Not too shabby.
Nevertheless, Bray needs to be especially sharp to pick up the slack, as the team is going to be one-dimensional since last year’s leading rusher Tauren Poole, who ran for 693 total yards, has graduated, leaving little in terms of a running attack.
Overall, NC State has a small edge in average total offensive yards gained per game in 2011—345 to 333 But it’s Tennessee that holds the advantage in scoring 27 to 24. And after all, it is the scoring that counts, right?
So, it could be that this game will be determined by the team who fields the best defense. And that has to lean in favor of the Vols, whose biggest adjustment will be to new defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri’s 3-4 scheme. They will also have to make alterations along a line that will be without All-SEC defensive tackle Malik Jackson, but you can expect junior Maurice Couch to pick up the responsibility as “Top Dog” on the defensive line.
Meanwhile, on the defensive front for the Wolfpack, they will be minus their top three linebackers from last year’s squad, which was ranked third in turnovers behind only Oklahoma State and Cincinnati. North Carolina State also had 91 tackles for loss, while the pass rush ranked 16 in sacks with 38.
The defense was very aggressive at times, and occasionally gambled too much on blitzes and gave up a lot of big plays. So with a lot of new kids, they will need to grow up fast, and could struggle in this one.
Matt’s Prediction: Tennessee 28 – North Carolina State 20 — I expect a hard fought game with the Vols finally snapping their Georgia Dome curse.