This is my first football season back in Knox County since 2005. I dropped my son off at pre-K this morning in a building full of orange. Life is pretty great these days.
Life should be pretty great for Tennessee tonight, even three years removed from Georgia State making it decidedly not so. If it helps, the Vols were around -26 that night, and are currently -35 with Ball State. There’s a temptation to send out eyes toward the Backyard Brawl, a simultaneous kickoff and one that should tell us much more about what to expect next Saturday than our game will. The weekend contains more of the same: Florida-Utah and LSU-Florida State should offer incredibly meaningful first impressions of teams we’ll see in the next 30 days.
We’ve still had relatively few kick-back-and-relax season openers in our recent past. Last year’s first look at Josh Heupel’s system led to a simplified evening of taking what the defense gave, 64 rushing attempts to 24 passes in a 38-6 ho-hummer against Bowling Green. Before that, ho-hum was about the best one could hope for. Not since the Vols jumped all over Utah State on a Sunday night in 2014 has a season opener gone exactly the way we wanted.
So yeah, free and easy is what we want tonight. And I think we’ve got as good a chance to get what we all want from this team as just about any in the last 15 years.
But the beauty of this sport remains in what we don’t know, the faith waiting to become sight.
Every season tells a story, and they are each unique. And every time – every time, through 15 years since Atlanta or 17 since I lived here or almost 41 since I was born – every time, I look forward to it. And so do you.
We don’t get to hold the pen by ourselves. It never goes exactly the way we think.
We’ve seen Jerry Colquitt get hurt on the opening drive. We’ve seen the Clawfense go down in the same setting 14 years later. We’ve seen Tennessee walk the balance beam with Appalachian State and Georgia Tech in consecutive years, and somehow not fall off. And yes, we’ve seen Georgia State come to Knoxville and win, straight up.
We’ve also seen the Vols roll up to Louisville on the first ever Thursday night game on ESPN and win. We’ve seen a win over Syracuse that had more meaning than we could possibly imagine at the time. We’ve wondered if we were lost, then felt like we were found in the blink of an eye against Cal. And we’ve seen Cordarrelle Patterson burn all our fears of the Georgia Dome to the ground.
So yeah, I don’t know if the most noteworthy thing to happen to the week one conversation will happen in Neyland tonight. I don’t know if, on Monday, we’ll be talking more about West Virginia or Utah than Tennessee.
But all of these stories weave together to make this still-interconnected-for-now beautiful mess of college football. There is nothing else like it. And as such, there is nothing else like today.
Enjoy it. Enjoy it.