KEYS TO THE GAME:
TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS (0-0, 0-0 SEC)
For Tennessee, this game will be a true indicator of where the 2012 season is headed. Tyler Bray will have to be more conservative than ever before with one of the best secondaries in all of college football waiting for him to force a football.
With the recent departure of All-SEC wide receiver Da'Rick Rogers both Cordarrelle Patterson and the Vols running game will have to step up in order to make up for production on the offensive side of the football.
And perhaps the biggest key to the game will be the play of new defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri's newly implemented 3-4 defense and their effectiveness against surefire future NFL quarterback Mike Glennon.
NC State Wolfpack (0-0, 0-0 ACC)
For the Wolfpack, it will be very important to take advantage of their superior defensive backfield and get coverage pressure on Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray. The Vols haven't been in very many close games as of late and creating pressure could rattle the Vols.
Mike Glennon will have a look at almost a completely revamped Tennessee secondary with inexperience at both safety and corner. His play will likely dictate the outcome of Friday's game in the Georgia Dome.
If the Wolfpack can grab the lead early and pound out tough yardage on the ground late in the game they may be able to top the mighty SEC in their opener.
— Aug. 31 represents the earliest date for a UT season opener since 2003, when the Vols defeated Fresno State 24-6 on Aug. 30.
— UT is opening the season at a neutral site for the first time since defeating Wyoming on Aug. 31, 2002, at LP Field in Nashville.
— The Vols are 11-7 all-time in games played on Friday, with the most recent game being a 27-14 loss to Clemson on Friday, Jan. 2, 2004, in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl.
— N.C. State coach Tom O'Brien served as an assistant coach at Virginia (guard/centers) when Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley played wide receiver for the Cavaliers (1987-90).
— Tennessee defensive line coach John Palermo started out his coaching career as a graduate assistant at NC State from 1977-78.
2011 STAT LEADERS:
Tyler Bray — 147-247, 59.9%, 283.3 ypg, 17 TD/6 INT
Marlin Lane — 75 att., 280 yds., 2 TD, 23.3 ypg
Mychal Rivera — 29 catches, 344 yds., 1 TD, 28.7 ypg
Mike Glennon - 283-453, 62.5%, 234.9 ypg, 31 TD/12 INT
James Washington - 226 att., 897 yds., 7 TD, 69.0 ypg
James Washington - 42 catches, 315 yds., 0 TD, 24.2 ypg
WHAT A WIN MEANS:
For Tennessee, a win means a big start to the 2012 season on a national stage with confidence heading into the matchup with the Florida Gators in Week 3. Dooley may not acknowledge that Friday is a must-win for the Vols and it may not be for the team, but it is for the fan base. If the Vols can't manage a win in the Georgia Dome you can count of Neyland having a lot of empty seats for the home opener with Georgia State.
For NC State, a win means another building block on the fantastic finish of the 2011 season, which saw the Wolfpack finish at 8-5. For some, NC State is the dark horse to win the ACC this season and a win against a quality SEC opponent would certainly get them of to a confident start.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
Cordarrelle Patterson (junior, wide receiver)
Patterson, who is now the No. 2 wide receiver following the departure of Rogers, will make his very first start in the orange and white Friday night. He will be forced into a pivotal role very early for a first-year wide receiver.
It will be important that he manage his admitted nerves that stem from making his first start as a Div. I football player. With Justin Hunter likely to be blanketed by All-America corner David Amerson, Patterson will likely have a lot of targets in Game 1.
Byron Moore (junior, safety)
A former junior college transfer, Moore worked his way into the starting lineup late in preseason camp. This will be his first start in the Volunteers secondary.
With Glennon at the helm, the Vol pass defense will surely be tested early and often and Moore will be a vital part of shutting down the Wolfpack.
Daniel McCullers (junior, nose tackle)
Another one of the Vols' load of junior college transfers, McCullers, a 6-foot-6, 360-pounder will be key in creating havok in the NC State offensive backfield.
In order to get pressure with three down linemen, McCullers will need to eat up a lot of space and enable the ends to rush the passer one-on-one.
David Amerson (junior, cornerback)
The 2011 Jack Tatum Award winner for the nation's best defensive back , Amerson is going to be key in stopping the Vols' dangerous passing attack with second-team All-SEC wide receiver Jusitn Hunter.
At 6-foot-3, 194 pounds, he has the size to run with Tennessee's wide receivers. If he is able to blanket one of the two speedsters he will get help from fellow big man and corner Dontae Johnson (6-foot-3, 190 pounds).
Mike Glennon (senior, quarterback)
Glennon, who is projected as one of the top quarterback prospects in the 2013 NFL draft, is going to get his first look at a SEC defense. If he can get protection from his offensive line he should be able to expose the inexperience in the Vols secondary.
The senior quarterback is a 6-foot-6, 232 pounds and everything you look for physically, but can he do it against a quality opponent?