With 17 players making their collegiate debuts on the same night, head coach Derek Dooley knows he can expect the unexpected.
"I'm not going to be surprised if we go in a little rat-trapping," he said. "That's what happens. Just think of the first time you tried to ride a bike ... you fell down. The first time you tried to walk ... boom.
"This is the first time they're going to play major-college football on a big stage, so there's going to be some rat-trapping going on. But that's OK.... We've got to do a good job as coaches not to panic and scream. I always say that, and I'm the first one that breaks the rule."
One of the true freshmen, JaWuan James, will start at right offensive tackle. Another true freshman, Michael Palardy, continues battling senior Chad Cunningham for a first-team kickoff job that may not be settled until game day. Palardy also is listed No. 2 behind Cunningham on punts and No. 2 behind Daniel Lincoln on placements.
Seven true freshmen hold second-team jobs on offense heading into the opener. They are quarterback Tyler Bray, left tackle Marquis Pair, left guard James Stone, right guard Zach Fulton, receiver Justin Hunter (pending approval by the NCAA Clearinghouse), receiver Da' Rick Rogers (who is bracketed No. 2 with sophomore Zach Rogers) and fullback Channing Fugate.
Three true freshmen made the Game 1 depth chart on defense. Brent Brewer is listed second team at strong safety, Corey Miller is listed second team at left end and Jacques Smith is listed third team at right end.
Two redshirt freshmen are projected to start vs. UT Martin. JerQuari Schofield is No. 1 at left guard and Eric Gordon is expected to open at right cornerback, although he is bracketed No. 1 with sophomore Marsalis Teague. Three more redshirt freshmen are listed as second-teamers for Game 1 - Daniel Hood at right offensive tackle, Arthur Jeffery at nose tackle and walk-on J.R. Carr at deep snapper.
Based on preseason practices, Veteran Vols say the freshmen appear ready to launch their college careers.
Speaking of JaWuan James, senior defensive end Chris Walker said: "I think he's ready to start in this conference. During the spring there were times you could tell he was supposed to be in high school right now. But, going up against guys like Gerald (Williams), Malik (Jackson) and me and Ben (Martin), I think he's gotten a lot stronger with the scheme he's in. He's come into his own, and I think that's helped him a lot. I think he's going to be ready for the speed of the game; I think he's going to be ready for the strength of the game."
Walker also had kind words for the other freshman offensive linemen projected to play Saturday night, noting: "I can't wait to come back in two or three years and see James Stone and Zach Fulton and those guys. I think JerQuari Schofield is going to be a great player just (based on) how much he's grown since I've been here."
Senior linebacker Nick Reveiz believes the three true freshmen on the defensive depth chart have bright futures, as well.
"They've done a really good job," Reveiz said. "Corey Miller and Jacques Smith were early enrollees, so that helped them out a lot. They've learned a whole lot throughout this eight-month process. Spring ball was a huge help to them, as far as knowing the speed and physicality of the SEC.
"And Brent Brewer has done an incredible job. He started out playing professional baseball, and now he's here as a 22-year-old freshman. He didn't come in saying, 'I know all this and know all that.' He was aware he's a freshman and had to learn all over again how to play football - how to take on blocks, how to defend passes. He's done a real good job of being a fast learner and playing extremely hard."
Like every other head coach in college football, Dooley values experience. Still, he seems at peace with JaWuan James starting in the Vol offensive line.
"I'm as comfortable as probably any coach could ever be with a true freshman starting at right tackle," Dooley said. "JaWuan could barely breathe in the mock game (last Wednesday night) from anxiety, and there was nobody in the stands.
"You can't forget that he's a true freshman. We laughed at it in the staff meeting today because we act like the guy's a junior. He's like one of our veterans (because) he's been here seven months, not two months.
"He's extremely mature. He's very balanced. He's intelligent. He's going to be a really good player."