Devil's Advocate (UT)

The Western Kentucky team that visits Knoxville on Saturday will not catch the Tennessee Vols napping. Given the likely decibel level at Neyland Stadium, even the soundest sleeper would have trouble napping.

Sure, Western went 2-10 last year and is riding an eight-game losing streak. Sure, the Hilltoppers are in their first full season facing the Big Boys of the NCAA's Football Bowl Subdivision. Sure, oddsmakers have installed Tennessee as a 30-point favorite.

Forget all of that. This game is far too significant for the Big Orange to take the Toppers lightly. It not only opens a season but opens the Lane Kiffin era of Big Orange football. It provides an opportunity to exorcise the demons of last season's 5-7 disaster and kick-start a new age of prosperity.

As noted earlier, the atmosphere will be electric. That's in stark contrast to last September, when a subdued crowd watched the Vols play their home opener coming off a deflating loss at UCLA. This Saturday, due to a new coaching staff and a chance to see a dozen fabulous freshmen in action, the excitement level of Vol fans will be off the charts by the 12:21 kickoff.

So, forget that the Vols are facing a lightly regarded underdog. They will not come out flat against Western Kentucky.

"We're not overlooking anyone," senior guard Vladimir Richard said this week. "Last year, Wyoming on Homecoming, we lost that game, so I never go out overlooking any team. The rest of the team has the same mindset. We're just going out here and playing snap after snap. I don't care who the opponent is. We're not overlooking any opponent because everyone is ready to play.

"We've just got to go out here and handle business."

Tennessee failed to "handle business" against Wyoming last fall, suffering a 13-7 homecoming loss that ranks alongside Chattanooga (14-6 in 1958), North Texas State (21-14 in 1975), Rutgers (13-7 in 1979) and Memphis (21-17 in 1996) among the most humiliating setbacks in program history.

"After that Wyoming game," Richard recalled, "it was like 'How can this happen?'"

It happened because Tennessee's players were more focused on the resignation of head coach Phillip Fulmer than on the Cowboys. Richard says the Vols will never allow themselves to be that distracted again.

"This year more guys have become leaders," he said, "and everyone's stepping up."

With all of that stepping up happening on the field and all of that cheering happening in the stands, Neyland Stadium will be far too noisy for any napping to occur this Saturday.


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