Empty seats galore?

What if they gave a football game and nobody came?

That has to be a concern for Tennessee's administration as the struggling Volunteer football team prepares to host a lackluster Northern Illinois squad this Saturday evening at Neyland Stadium.

Simply put, the Game 5 matchup has all the appeal of an Orange & White scrimmage ... without the free admission.

Coming off a discouraging loss at UCLA in Game 1, the Vols played before 20,000 empty seats in their home opener against UAB on Sept. 13. There likely will be twice that many vacancies this weekend.

The reasons are obvious:

- Tennessee is off to a 1-3 start, and the natives are restless. Vol faithful were hoping in preseason that this team would end UT's nine-year SEC championship drought and its eight-year BCS drought. Instead, the Big Orange appears headed for a 6-6 season ... or worse.

- Watching the Vols' offense is about as tedious as watching a spider spin its web. If Tennessee were fun to watch, many fans would show up regardless of the won-lost record and the opponent. The 2008 Vols are almost painful to watch, however.

- Northern Illinois has no name recognition, no marquee players and no reason to be visiting Neyland Stadium except to collect a payday. This is a team that lost to Western Michigan earlier this season.

- Tennessee's players (and even the head coach) have alienated a segment of the Vol Nation by noting that most of the fans grumbling about the early-season losses never played the game ... or any other sport, for that matter. Suggesting that you must play football to recognize bad football was a callous insult to the fan base. Most folks realize that you don't bite the hand that feeds you but, apparently, that lesson hasn't made its way to the Vol football complex.

- The UT-NIU kickoff has been set for 7 o'clock to accommodate a pay-per-view telecast. That means out-of-town fans won't be getting home until midnight or later. This will deter some potential attendees.

- Gasoline is scarce and expensive these days, making treks of 100 miles or more to Neyland Stadium problematical and costly. Conversely, listening to the game on radio is free and easy. Even a pay-per-view telecast is an attractive and cost-effective option when the game holds as little promise as the UT-NIU matchup does.

In spite of the many reasons to stay home, all of the Tennessee die-hards will show up this weekend to watch the Vols and Huskies. So, how many UT fans qualify as die-hards?

We'll find out at 7 o'clock Saturday night.

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