It’s rare to win your season-opener and then drop eight spots in the rankings, but that’s exactly what happened to then-No. 9, now-No. 17 Tennessee. Yes, the Volunteers fell flat in their season-opener, needing overtime to beat Appalachian State, 20-13, in Knoxville.
“Let’s just be very clear right from the start,” NFL on FOX analyst Charles Davis said on CBS Sports Radio’s Ferrall on the Bench. “Postgame, you always hear coaches, when they escape with wins like that, the first thing you do is praise the other team – and it’s a natural thing. Appalachian State is a good football team, but this was much more to me about what Tennessee didn’t get done, didn’t accomplish, that night. I don’t want to take credit from Appalachian State for playing a great game, but at the same time, this is really a bigger question for Tennessee. That’s what really puts a lot of importance on this week in Bristol.”
Tennessee (1-0) plays Virginia Tech (1-0) at Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tennessee, this Saturday at 8 p.m. ET.
“Will they bounce back and look like a team that was picked in the preseason top 10, or are they really feeling the pressure of being a preseason top-10 team – something they haven’t been in a long time?” said Davis, who starred at Tennessee in the 1980s. “They’ve been that team that’s been kind of trendy for a while. Now it’s expected. Can they go out and put it all together in Bristol? It’s a huge, huge game.”
The Hokies beat Liberty, 36-13, last Saturday.
“Let’s face it: Justin Fuente takes over for Frank Beamer this year, and he’s really playing with house money,” Davis said. “If he comes out and has a big game and beats Tennessee in this game early, what a great, great announcement of him and his new regime there because they frankly needed a change. As great as Coach Beamer has been, it’s probably been about two or three years down the road that maybe it just wasn’t (working) the way it used to.”
Davis is also excited for this weekend’s matchup between Penn State (1-0) and Pit (1-0). Those teams square off at Heinz Field on Saturday at 12 p.m. ET.
“I love that one,” Davis said. “Look, we grew up on it. We’re of a certain age where that was an expected game every year, and to me, I’m one of those college football people that hates seeing those games go by the wayside for whatever reason. So this is huge. It’s really bigger, to me, for Penn State than it is for Pitt. Every game is big, but for Penn State and James Franklin, it’s been a little bumpy. The Penn State people are feeling like we should be better than what we were and we should be ahead of the game now. What people forget is, when you have those types of sanctions, you’re actually better earlier in the sanctions than you are later. Once you go through the sanctions – and even when you get the scholarships back – you’ve had attrition for years and now you’re trying to build back up, and I think we kind of look at it backwards. To me, Penn State has to have this game. . . . But James Conner coming back for Pitt is really the huge story for me. Kid beat cancer and is back out on the field and being productive. What an incredible (story).”