Tennessee vs. North Carolina St.

Published on Aug. 27, 2012, at 6:02 p.m. Eastern.

By Brian Edwards

Tennessee returns to the Georgia Dome this Friday night for the first time since getting hammered 37-14 by Virginia Tech in the 2009 Chick-fil-A Bowl on New Year’s Eve. The Volunteers are hoping for much different results when they take on North Carolina St. in a crucial season opener for both teams.

As of Wednesday, most betting shops had UT listed as a 3 ½-point favorite with a total of 53. Gamblers can take the Wolfpack to win outright for a plus-140 payout (risk $100 to win $140).

Derek Dooley is on the hot seat going into his third campaign in Knoxville. Whether that’s fair or not is irrelevant because it’s undoubtedly a fact. I went into this topic at great length earlier this summer.

Dooley announced the dismissal of starting junior wide receiver Da’Rick Rogers last Friday. Rogers, who had reportedly been a major headache for Dooley and his staff for an extended period of time, had a team-high 67 receptions for 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns last season.

Nevertheless, some feel as if this is an addition-by-subtraction situation. That’s because the Vols have junior WR Justin Hunter back in the mix. Hunter was poised for a breakout campaign last year before tearing his ACL in the first half of a Week 3 game at Florida.

In wins over Montana and Cincinnati and early on against the Gators, Hunter hauled in 17 catches for 314 yards and a pair of TDs. By all accounts, he’s back to 100 percent which means he’s going to be one of the SEC’s top wideouts. Also, the top recruit in UT’s 2012 class, juco transfer Cordarrelle Patterson, has been ‘as advertised’ so far.

Hunter’s injury wasn’t the only one to impact UT’s disappointing 5-7 record last year. QB Tyler Bray injured his thumb in a 20-12 home loss to Georgia and then missed five consecutive contests.

Bray finished 2011 with 17 TD passes compared to only six interceptions. For his career, he has a 35/16 TD-INT ratio.

The junior signal caller should have more time to throw this season. A young and inexperienced offensive line struggled mightily in 2011 but all five starters return, and this is now a unit with three juniors and a senior.

North Carolina St. is my sleeper team in the ACC (FSU better be on upset alert Oct. 6!). While Russell Wilson was lighting it up for Wisconsin last year, Mike Glennon was enjoying plenty of success in Raleigh, too. In other words, Wilson’s exit worked out for everybody.

Glennon went 8-5 in the first 13 starts of his career, throwing for 3,054 yards with a 31/12 TD-INT ratio. The offense has seven starters returning, including RB James Washington, who rushed for 897 yards and seven TDs last year. The offensive line is a veteran group with 112 career starts between them.

Glennon’s favorite target is expected to be senior WR Tobais Palmer, who had 37 catches for 496 yards and five TDs in 2011. Bryan Underwood (16 catches, 226 yards and 2 TDs LY) was expected to be one of the three starting WRs, but he’s out indefinitely with a knee injury.

N.C. St. has six starters back on a defense that surrendered 24.7 points per game. Senior safety Earl Wolff is the top returning tackler, coming off a season with 113 tackles and three interceptions. Junior CB David Amerson garnered first-team All-American honors with 13 interceptions last season. However, the Wolfpack’s other starting corner, senior C.J. Wilson, is ‘out’ with eligibility concerns. Wilson has started 29 career games and has three interceptions returned for touchdowns.

The Vols have nine starters back on a defensive unit that gave up 22.6 PPG in 2011.

Kick-off in Atlanta on Friday is slated for 7:30 p.m. Eastern. ESPNU will provide television coverage.

**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**

–Clemson second-string RB Mike Bellamy has been suspended for the entire season for academics. The sophomore rushed for three TDs and averaged 6.0 yards per carry on 57 totes as a true freshman in 2011.

–Boise St. starting WR Geraldo Boldewijn has been suspended for the first four games of the year and won’t play Friday night in East Lansing. Also, Chris Petersen’s team will be without starting center Cory Yriarte, who is done for the season with a knee injury. Without those two starters, the Broncos have just five returning starters (3 on offense, 2 on defense). They are seven-point underdogs at Michigan St. ESPN will have television coverage of this game at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

–Ohio, which opens the year Saturday at Penn St. in a very winnable game, has lost second-team All-MAC performer Travis Carrie for an indefinite period of time (possibly the season). The senior CB had 49 tackles, 13 passes broken up and four interceptions in 2011.

–Texas A&M has suspended starting safety Howard Matthews and starting LB Steve Jenkins (61 tackles LY) for Thursday’s opener at La. Tech. The Aggies are favored by 7 1/2 against the Bulldogs. My pick for this game can be found here.

–Oklahoma has lost a pair of starting offensive linemen for the season, senior center Ben Habern (retired due to shoulder and neck issues) and senior OG Tyler Evans (torn ACL). The Sooners open Saturday at UTEP as 31-point favorites.

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