The University of Tennessee rearranged its football schedule last week in the interest of national exposure. That makes sense, right?
You bet. But it makes even more sense for UCLA.
The Bruins don’t look capable of winning the game. Yet they should dominate the pregame.
In case you’re wondering, the No. 1 storyline for the nationally televised season opener won’t be: “Will Arian Foster break UT’s rushing record?”
Instead, it will be a love fest for new UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel. When ESPN-types aren’t talking up the Neuheisel comeback, they will be talking about the Norm Chow comeback.
Neuheisel is returning to his alma mater as its head coach. Chow is returning to Los Angeles as an offensive guru.
From a UCLA perspective, those are both vastly superior storylines to: “What’s it like to play second fiddle to UCLA basketball?” Or, “What’s it like to play second fiddle to Southern Cal football?”
UCLA is so overshadowed by USC in the fall, it might as well be playing in San Diego. And now, it’s opening its season on national television on Monday night against UT. That’s a giant step up from ending your season in the Pioneer Las Vegas Bowl.
There’s another benefit to the change in the schedule. Originally, the Bruins had to open the season against Fresno State before playing UT a week later. That likely would have meant playing Top 25 teams back-to-back.
Is that anyway to break in a new era of UCLA football?
Not when you return only 10 starters from a 6-7 team.
The Vols also should gain more than exposure. Never mind the time zone. Opening the season on the road against UCLA isn’t nearly as daunting as last year’s opener in Berkeley.
Cal’s talented, experienced offense was matched against an inexperienced UT defense, which was overwhelmed from the outset. UCLA might have Chow as a play caller, but it doesn’t have Cal’s caliber of offensive players. Conversely, UT’s defense, especially in the secondary, will be more experienced.
But UT will lose something by revamping its early-season schedule. In the original schedule, it played UAB and UCLA the first two weeks with an open date before Florida. The open date now comes before UAB.
You could argue that an open date before Florida rarely has worked to UT’s advantage. But an open date is still preferable in this case, particularly since Florida will have two weeks to prepare for the Vols.
Florida will open the season against Hawaii and play Miami in what could be a very difficult second game. The Gators then will have two weeks to correct whatever has gone wrong and to rehab minor injuries.
UT should get used to that setup. Vanderbilt is the only SEC East opponent that won’t have two weeks to prepare for the Vols.
UT’s second open date is between Wyoming and Vanderbilt. What a godsend, huh?
Sports editor John Adams may be reached at 865-342-6284 or firstname.lastname@example.org.