KNOXVILLE -- The lights come on, nearly 100,000 people pack the stands and strangers in maroon, silver and white exit the tunnel on the opposite end of the field.
Suddenly all of the plays you've learned and rehearsed and the fundamentals you've done every day for the last month aren't so easily done.
The University of Tennessee will have 10 football players make their first starts and a handful of others play their first collegiate game at 6 tonight against visiting Montana at Neyland Stadium.
"I'm looking forward to watching us play," UT offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said this week. "I'm hoping the run game is good. I'm hoping the pass game is good. Who the heck knows?"
Second-year head coach Derek Dooley has reiterated the uncertain feelings he has with his young team, and as much as he would like to evaluate as much of his personnel as he can, that's a secondary goal.
"Our objective's to win the game, so I'm not going to go out there like it's a preseason game and evaluate guys," Dooley said earlier this week. "We're going to go out there to try to win the football game. If that means playing a lot of guys, we'll do it, and if it doesn't, then we won't."
Despite the Grizzlies' championship pedigree at the Football Championship Subdivision level, the Vols are heavy favorites for a reason, though Montana might present more of a challenge than the UT-Martin team the Vols beat 50-0 last year and the Western Kentucky squad UT hammered 63-7 in 2009.
By their standards, the 12th-ranked Grizzlies' 7-4 record last season was a disappointment as a 17-year streak of playoff appearances and 12-year run of Big Sky Conference titles ended. Montana will start 19 juniors and seniors, and Dooley is making sure the Vols aren't overlooking the visitors.
"If you take all the teams, [FBS] and [FCS], nobody's had more wins in the last decade," he said. "It's a program we have a lot of respect for. It's a prideful program. When you watch the film it's no secret why they've had so much success. They believe in their systems, they play their tails off and they have a lot of good football players. We're going to have our work cut out for us."
As if their coach's words weren't enough, all the Vols have to do is look at perennial FCS powers Appalachian State, which memorably upset Michigan in 2007, and James Madison, which took down eventual ACC champion Virginia Tech last season.
"This is a very respectable team," senior defensive tackle Malik Jackson said. "If anybody takes this team lightly, they're dead wrong. This team has a lot of potential to beat us."
Though the primary objective is to win the game, the Vols certainly would like to begin answering some of their own questions as well, though Montana won't serve as the best barometer for judgment.
"It's show time," Chaney said. "Let's go out and play a game in front of a lot of people and see how everyone reacts. I have been around some guys who could practice well, then the lights come on and things change a little bit. We are here to play the game and try to win the game and see how we perform when we get out there."
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...
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