Austin Peay at Tennessee
Saturday, 6:00 p.m. ET
Neyland Stadium(102,455) . Knoxville, Tenn.
Radio: Vol Network (106.5 FM Chattanooga)
TV: VideoSeat PPV
Series Record: First meeting
Why Saturday is important
The Butch Jones era begins in Knoxville. And though the opponent is subpar, that doesn’t completely dampen the enthusiasm of fans who are hungry for a new beginning after three frustrating years under former coach Derek Dooley. It’ll offer the first look at the new-look Vols. Jones brings a hurry-up, power-spread offense to Knoxville and the 4-3 will be put back in on defense after a year in the 3-4. The result won’t be in much question on Saturday, but fans and coaches alike will be looking for how this team competes. Some things are hard to measure – hustle, effort, condition, discipline and football IQ – but those are things that are in need of upgrades. How Tennessee fares in those categories will start to indicate how far the Vols have come from last year.
Three things to know about Austin Peay
Wins have been hard to come by for the Governors recently. The Clarksville, Tenn., FCS program finished 2012 with a 2-9 record (1-7 OVC), with its only two wins coming over Culver-Stockton, an NAIA opponent, and Tennessee Tech. . The Govs played Butch Jones’ Cincinnati team in 2011 and lost the season opener 72-10. The Bearcats racked up nearly 400 yards on the ground in that contest. They went on to have a 10-3 campaign (5-2 Big East) that year. . Austin Peay has really struggled on the road in recent years. The Governors haven’t pulled off a road win since Sept. 18, 2010, giving them a 16-game road losing streak. Playing in front of potentially 100,000-plus at Neyland seems to be an unlikely way to break it.
What you should know about Austin Peay head coach Kirby Cannon
A 30-year coaching veteran, Cannon has seen just about every level of college football. He most recently was an assistant at Central Michigan (2010-13), helping lead the Chippewas to a win in the 2012 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl over Western Kentucky. . His longest stop was as the head coach at Missouri S&T (1999-2009). . There he patiently rebuilt a struggling program that had fallen off. In total, his record was only 35-86, but he led it to a conference title by the end of his tenure. . Other stops in Cannon’s career include Truman State, Northern Michigan, Iowa State and Western Ilinois. . Cannon graduated from Missouri State in 1981, where he played both football and baseball.
Tennessee player to watch
There will be plenty of new faces on the field for the Vols, but perhaps the most anticipated debut will be from true freshman wide receiver Marquez North. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound receiver has a starting spot nailed down and he has the physical gifts to become a playmaker for the Vols. Expect new starting quarterback Justin Worley to look to him often. The two have found some rhythm in camp.
Austin Peay player to watch
Quarterback Andrew Spivey transferred from College of San Francisco to lead the Governors in 2013. Spivey had over 3,000 yards of passing during his junior college campaign last year. The Governors are hoping he can transfer some of that success to the OVC this season.
Random facts to impress your friends
A Tennessee win would be its 800th in program history. . A UT win would also mark the 18th consecutive win for the Vols when the season opener is in Knoxville. . The Vols are 87-24-6 all-time in season openers. . Cannon and Jones have not worked together, but Cannon joined the Central Michigan staff the year after Jones left to coach at Cincinnati. . Austin Peay offensive line coach Jason Palermo is the son of John Palermo, UT’s defensive line coach in 2012. John Palermo is also a former head coach at Austin Peay. .Tennessee has opened with an FCS opponent in three of the past four seasons (UT Martin in 2010, Montana in 2011). . UT is 6-0-1 all-time in games played in August. . Austin Peay has a heavy Volunteer State flavor on its roster with 61 out of 89 total players hailing from Tennessee. . Though Tennessee has a completely new coaching staff, this won’t be the first time in Neyland Stadium for any of them. All visited UT as a visiting coach at least once in their careers before coming to Tennessee.
Tennessee wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni: “I think people devalue coaches, fans, jogging out in front of 102,000 people for the first time playing. There’s going to be some butterflies, there’s going to be a `whoa’ kind of factor. No matter what can do, what we do, nothing can get them ready for that – prepare them for that. There’s going to be some nerves, there’s going to be some butterflies in the stomach. We’ve just got to play through it.”
The Vols will win if …
They show up. Anything less than a blowout would be a disappointment on Saturday. Tennessee has plenty of issues itself, but Austin Peay is one of the worst teams to come to Neyland Stadium in recent history.
The Vols will lose if …
See above. The Vols can’t take much for granted this season, but a win against Austin Peay is all but certain.
Tennessee 42, Austin Peay 7
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanielNooga