Devil's Advocate

Check out this season's first edition of InsideTennessee's Devil's Advocate series in which two staff members break down why their assigned team will win on Saturday.

We at love a good debate. That's why we're bringing back Devil's Advocate, in which two staff members take opposing sides on each Tennessee football game. Each week one staffer will present evidence showing why the Vols should win/beat the spread, while the other will offer a spirited rebuttal.

Here are the Game 1 arguments:


by Randy Moore

Facing an opponent from the Football Championship Subdivision is a sure way to make a splash in your opener. Just ask fans of Michigan and Ole Miss.

Then again, maybe not. Michigan lost its 2007 opener to Appalachian State and Ole Miss lost its 2010 opener to Jacksonville State. You see, weird things happen in openers. Sometimes the favorite gets overconfident, as happened to the Wolverines in '07. Sometimes the favorite gets a big lead and relaxes, as happened to the Rebels in '10. Sometimes the favorite falls victim to first-game jitters or simply plays sloppy football.

Any of these scenarios could play out Saturday evening at Neyland Stadium when Tennessee hosts Montana of the FCS. The Vols have better talent and should win handily but Michigan had better talent than Appy State and Ole Miss had better talent than Jacksonville. Talent only matters if you execute, and there is no guarantee that the Vols will execute crisply Saturday evening.

Take sophomore quarterback Tyler Bray, for instance. His last official pass hit a North Carolina linebacker in the numbers, sealing Tennessee's doom in the Music City Bowl last December. Bray hasn't exactly redeemed himself since then, completing just 5 of 30 passes in the Orange & White game and less than 50 percent of his throws in three August scrimmages.

Vol fans are expecting great things from towering sophomore wide receivers Justin Hunter and Da' Rick Rogers but Montana cornerback Trumaine Johnson was a consensus FCS All-American in 2010 who has the size (6-feet-3, 199 pounds) to hang with Hunter and Rogers.

If Bray struggles and Johnson neutralizes Tennessee's star wideouts, the Vols may be forced to hang their hats on a ground attack that averaged an SEC-worst 109 rushing yards per game in 2010.

Defensively, Tennessee will start three true freshman — two at linebacker and one at cornerback. They're sure to bust some assignments, especially since Montana utilizes a hurry-up offense that forces opponents to make quick substitutions, quick reads and even quicker decisions.

You want to talk special teams? Montana's Brady McKnight nailed 14 of 18 field goals last fall, including a 53-yarder. Tennessee counters with Michael Palardy, who has made just five field goals in his college career with a long of 39 yards. Vol punter Matt Darr has never kicked in a college game, and Tennessee's punt-return game was a travesty last fall.

Should Tennessee struggle with Montana? No. But Michigan shouldn't have struggled with Appalachian State in 2007 and Ole Miss shouldn't have struggled with Jacksonville State last fall. Those were aberrations — the kind of aberrations that tend to happen more in openers than at any other time.


By Danny Parker

When devising a formula in which a premier Southeastern Conference program might fall victim to a Football Championship Subdivision school, one unmistakeable variable has to be underestimating and overlooking the foe.

After 20 losses in three seasons, including a 6-7 campaign in 2010, the Tennessee Volunteers wouldn't underestimate Cathedral House of the Commonwealth Community College.

Even some of the more knowledgeable college football fans know little to nothing about Montana. Well, there is the fact that it was the setting for two of the more acclaimed movies of the 1990s — "Legends of the Fall" and "A River Runs Through It."

In terms of the Montana Grizzlies? The Vols have been educated much of prep week about how successful their season-opening opponent has been in recent years. And, yes, knowing how to win is an attribute not every team has.

However, the unknown of tonight's visitor won't be a tide-turning advantage.

The heartbreak and embarrassment that comes with so many defeats for a prideful program like Tennessee's, coupled with the way in which it fell to LSU and to North Carolina has evolved into a burning desire to substitute nightmares for a dream-like season with favorable memories of college football for this squad.

Needless to say, strength and conditioning coach Ron McKeefery didn't need to search high and low to find tools of motivation to get the Vols prepared for the season's grind during summer workouts.

Numbers about how Tennessee is 84-24-6 in season openers going back to 1891 or how it has won 16 straight home openers since 1995 are cool to toss out but that was then, this is now.

Star ratings are for high school prospects. Results are what separate talent in DI football and that must come from deep inside when your enemy is equally, if not more, talented than you.

To get a glimpse at Tennessee's heart and desire that trumps all ratings, records and statistics, look no further than the defensive line.

Defensive ends Marlon Walls and Ben Martin are finally back on the field after each suffered Achilles' tendon tears (with Martin ripping up both tendons). Think after painful months of rehab they're not grateful to strap it back on?

Another end, Jacques Smith, had surgery on both feet earlier this year and is forging ahead with screws in both feet. He's gone as far as saying he is blessed to simply being able to stand, let alone torment ball carriers.

Junior college transfer Maurice Couch has a daughter named Ahmya that's never far from his thoughts. Anybody wanna bet against a guy's heart when he has the ability to eventually provide a secure life for his little girl?

Storylines like those exist throughout this version of the Orange and White.

Few coaches relentlessly play closer attention to detail and micro manage quite like Derek Dooley. When even he struggles to find negatives about the heart and effort of his football team, then something pretty great is starting to happen on The Hill.

Tennessee coach Derek Dooley

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