KNOXVILLE — Tennessee will head west to start its 2015 football season.
The Volunteers are heading only a couple of hours down Interstate 40, though.
Barely 24 hours after inking a 2014 recruiting class with eight midstate prospects, Tennessee announced it will open the 2015 season against UAB at Nashville's LP Field, home of the Tennessee Titans.
The Vols' efforts to increase their presence in the Nashville area now has them playing a nonconference neutral-site game in the state's capital.
In Tennessee's release, athletic director Dave Hart said he had discussed the idea of playing the 2015 opener in Nashville with Scott Ramsey, the president and CEO of the Nashville Sports Council, "for more than a year."
Though the Vols visit Vanderbilt every other year, Tennessee last played at LP Field in the Music City Bowl in 2010 against North Carolina, and coach Phillip Fulmer's Vols hammered Wyoming 47-7 there in 2002.
"It is exciting to have this come to fruition, and we look forward to opening our season in front of a great crowd in Nashville," said Hart, Tennessee's third-year athletic director.
To make the game work in an area that "is a priority for us from the perspective of recruiting, our fans and our alumni," Hart said, Tennessee had to make some scheduling adjustments.
A home-and-home series with Connecticut scheduled for 2015 and 2016 has been suspended, presumably to a later date, by a "mutual agreement" between the schools, according to Tennessee's release. A week after facing UAB in Nashville, the Vols will play Oklahoma in Knoxville in the return game from Tennessee's trip to Norman this fall.
The Vols still will play seven home games, Hart said in the release. Barring significant changes to its league scheduling by the SEC, Tennessee would play at Florida, Alabama, Missouri and Kentucky in 2015. The Vols were slated to play at Connecticut, but the game in Nashville on Sept. 5 will replace it.
UAB hired Jacksonville State coach Bill Clark last month to replace Garrick McGee, the former Arkansas offensive coordinator who rejoined former boss Bobby Petrino at Louisville as offensive coordinator after a 5-19 stint in two seasons as the Blazers head coach.
The last time UAB had a winning season was 2004 under current Tennessee Tech coach Watson Brown, and the Blazers narrowly lost 17-10 to the Vols in Knoxville in 2005. In 2010, the Vols escaped with a double-overtime win against UAB on a Matt Simms-to-Denarius Moore touchdown pass in a game in which Blazers kicker Josh Zahn missed five field-goal tries.
"With the momentum that Coach [Butch] Jones is building throughout the state," Ramsey said, "it should be a full stadium with a great atmosphere in downtown Nashville."
Tennessee reached an agreement with Virginia Tech in October to play a game at Bristol Motor Speedway in 2016, and Hart said when that game was announced that he was in discussions with six other cities regarding future such neutral-site games.
"I'm a big fan of neutral-site games," he said.
The Vols now have another one on the horizon.
Contact Patrick Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 ...