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Pittsburgh Athletics photo / Pittsburgh fifth-year senior outside linebacker Phil Campbell III is excited for the Panthers to play a Southeastern Conference team for the first time in his career when they visit Tennessee on Saturday for a noon showdown that will be televised by ESPN.

The Tennessee Volunteers have been experiencing their most disappointing decade-plus run on the football field, but they're still a Southeastern Conference historical power with a stadium that seats in excess of 100,000 people.

For those on the outside, such as the visiting Pittsburgh Panthers this weekend, that's a pretty big deal.

"This game is huge for us," Panthers fifth-year senior outside linebacker Phil Campbell III said this week in a news conference. "Every game is huge, but I've never played an SEC team, and I'm really excited to get that going and represent the whole ACC, really. I'm excited."

SEC teams have won 11 of the past 15 national championships, with Alabama accounting for six of those crowns and Auburn, Florida and LSU combining for the other five. That has created a polarizing aspect to college football, a development only enhanced by the announcement this summer that Oklahoma and Texas will be departing the Big 12 to form a 16-team super conference.

When the Panthers and Vols collide in the inaugural Johnny Majors Classic at noon Saturday on ESPN, Tennessee will be looking to give the SEC a 10th consecutive win over an Atlantic Coast Conference team, with Alabama, Georgia and Ole Miss having extended that streak last weekend at the expense of Miami, Clemson and Louisville.

"There's a lot of hype around SEC teams, but we're attacking it the same," Pitt junior receiver Jared Wayne said. "We try and treat every opponent the same, and we try to play up to our standards and not who we're playing against."

Pitt has plenty rich history of its own, which is reflected in a 12-3-2 all-time record against teams currently in the SEC. The Panthers defeated Tennessee in Neyland Stadium 30-6 in 1980 and 13-3 in 1983, with the latter matchup Pitt's most recent true road game against an SEC team.

The Panthers have never hosted an SEC program, and their most recent contest against an SEC member was a 38-17 loss to Ole Miss in the BBVA Compass Bowl after the 2012 season.

As for Tennessee's imposing 102,455-seat facility that is housing the Vols for the 100th season, Pitt plans to be prepared. The Panthers played at Penn State two seasons ago, losing 17-10 before a whopping 108,661.

"We'll have crowd noise," Pitt seventh-year coach Pat Narduzzi said earlier this week of his practice plans. "That will be a big thing offensively, but we worked on that during camp as well. We'll be ready to go.

"Any time we've had noise issues or noisy games for our offense, our guys have stepped up and done a nice job. It should not be an issue."

Tennessee has been pushing this week for its first crowd of 100,000 since its 2018 loss to Florida in Jeremy Pruitt's first season. The Vols haven't played to a sellout since 2017, when Georgia signaled the beginning of the end for Butch Jones by applying a 41-0 blanking.

Campbell admitted this week that studying Tennessee first-year coach Josh Heupel's offense from his days at the University of Central Florida has been "a huge part of what we're looking at," and Wayne said the Vols won't have the only up-tempo offense.

"I think that's kind of the name of the game now — play fast so you don't let the defense set up," Wayne said. We're going to come out and play fast, too, and show we can hang with guys in the SEC."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.

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