The Tennessee Volunteers, ranked ninth in the AP preseason poll, entered the year as favorites to contend for an SEC championship and, potentially, the College Football Playoff.
Well, they didn’t look anything like contenders in their season-opener on Thursday night.
The Volunteers survived Appalachian State, 20-13, in overtime, this after Tennessee recovered a fumble by quarterback Josh Dobbs in the end zone to score the game-winning touchdown.
Florida, Georgia, Alabama and others await the Vols later this season, but how close did they come to seeing their season go up in flames in Week 1?
“They came a lot closer than I think anybody really anticipated,” NBC Sports college football insider Kevin McGuire said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “First of all, give props to Appalachian State for coming in and really playing a tough game. It was just one of those games where they could not come through on the special teams. The offense just couldn’t get enough plays. Some questionable clock management down the stretch there for Appalachian State. It was not a pretty game for Tennessee.”
Tennessee trailed 13-3 at halftime, committed two turnovers and allowed 184 rushing yards to Appalachian State, which famously beat Michigan in Ann Arbor exactly nine years earlier on Sept. 1, 2007.
“I think that’s actually one good thing,” McGuire said. “If you’re Butch Jones, you can take some things from this game and you can say, ‘Yeah, we won, we made some plays when we needed to, but we had some lucky bounces go our way, especially the fumble at the end. There’s room for improvement. That’s a little bit of an eye-opener for Tennessee, and maybe that’s a good thing for them.”
Even if the Volunteers string together some more wins, it’ll be interesting to see if their uninspiring opener hurts them in the playoff rankings.
“I don’t know at this point,” McGuire said. “It’s really hard to judge where the season is going to go based off of one game. I hate to do that sometimes, but like I said, if you’e Butch Jones, it’s an eye-opener for your team. There’s a whole summer where your team’s being pumped up and being talked about as an SEC contender, maybe even a playoff contender. And then right out of the gate, in your stadium, you get pushed into overtime. And the only reason you’re there is because Appalachian State missed an extra point earlier in the game. They could have very well have just lost that game. So there’s a lot of room for improvement. I think that’s the one thing you take from this game. You can’t worry about where you’re going to be a month from now. You really just got to focus right now on Virginia Tech, which is coming up pretty quickly.”
Tennessee (1-0) plays Virginia Tech at Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tennessee, on Sept. 10 at 8 p.m. ET.