Jay Greeson: First day of fall brings key moments for Mocs, Vols, Dogs

Jay Greeson: First day of fall brings key moments for Mocs, Vols, Dogs

September 22nd, 2012 by Jay Greeson in Sports - Columns

Happy first day of fall.

We know where we are in the calendar - smack dab in the middle of football - and now the weather and the official season match.

That said, questions remain.

Is UTC ready for the next step?

Southern Conference heavyweight Appalachian State comes to Finley Stadium tonight bruised and battered but still baring the bully badge its pedigree merits.

Coach Russ Huesman's UTC program is starving for a win of this magnitude, and it's fair to say that this game lingers near the same importance level for the Mocs that last Saturday did for Tennessee's Volunteers. The importance level is for different reasons, of course - no one would hint that Russ needs the same flame-retardent, teflon seat protector Derek Dooley needs - but important nonetheless.

Russ and Co. have done serious work getting UTC to the point where competing in games like this is the expectation. Now the Mocs coaches, players and fans need the payoff.

When competing becomes the norm, winning big games must be the next step. The former has been achieved - and that is an accomplishment worthy of acclaim - but the next step looms. Is today the day?

Is UT able to rebound?

The emotional hangover that Johnny Vols Fans everywhere endured this week was tough. The Tennessee fan base pushed all in - and did it with ESPN's "GameDay" on hand - only to be rebuffed by the Florida Gators. Again.

The Vols likely will trounce Akron tonight, but their goals reach beyond being viewed as the Monsters of the MAC. To get there and to clear the major SEC hurdles ahead, the Vols - and a chunk of their fan base - need a shot of confidence. The Zips offer that, even if it's watered down a touch.

Playing well will be its own reward for a UT team staring down a four-game stretch of Georgia, Mississippi State, Alabama and South Carolina in the five Saturdays after this one.

Is Georgia's Bulldogs as good as they seem?

They look better each week. They have an early-season Heisman Trophy candidate in quarterback Aaron Murray. They have two of the nation's most explosive newcomers in freshman runners Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall. They have a defense that arguably has the nation's top player in linebacker Jarvis Jones.

If this Georgia team is to be elite, it will need to manhandle Vanderbilt the way SEC super powers LSU and Alabama run roughshod over lesser foes.

Will we know more after today? Well, we'll officially know what season it is.