Breaking down the personnel for Tennessee and Cincinnati
In a few weeks, the pendulum could easily swing the other way as Tyler Bray continues to develop and build on his freshman campaign. But at least for now, Cincinnati senior Zach Collaros might be slightly more dangerous with his ability to both run and hurt defenses through the air down the field.
The battle between UT's Tauren Poole and Cincinnati's Isaiah Pead is another difficult call, with Poole having cut his teeth in the SEC and Pead ranking among the most productive backs in the country in yards per carry. But the Vols might have the deeper stable, especially after a splash debut for freshman Marlin Lane.
As productive as the Bearcats are on the perimeter with their spread offense, the way Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers are playing is tough for any set of targets to match right now. The sophomores both appear to be more complete receivers than a year ago, and they're a nightmare for a defensive coordinator.
Even with their spread offense, the Bearcats still ranked No. 97 in the nation last season by giving up nearly three sacks per game. As much criticism as the Vols took for struggles on the ground against Montana, the protection was generally all Bray could have needed in the pocket.
UT's nine-man rotation looked effective in its debut, though nobody was ever able to get home for a sack. The Bearcats were a handful at times a year ago, and they've got a veteran bunch with three seniors and three juniors in the two-deep.
The young guns didn't have any significant breakdowns, and senior Daryl Vereen was a force in the Nickel package. But the Vols are obviously still dealing with youth, and the Bearcats are anchored defensively with tackle machine JK Schaffer.
In the first look at UT's life after Janzen Jackson, it more than held its own despite the difficulty presented by the spread. Justin Coleman had a freshman moment, but the Vols still have the depth to deal with that offense with its defensive backs in Nickel.
DJ Woods is a threat to monitor on returns for the Bearcats, but in general their kicking game is mostly average across the board. The Vols still didn't light the world on fire against Montana, though, particularly with its inconsistent punting.
Butch Jones was a big hit at Central Michigan, winning a pair of conference championships in just three seasons. But despite inheriting a program that had been to consecutive BCS games, the Bearcats took a major step back in his first year — but the Vols provide a chance to move his program forward.
UT showed a lot of the swagger and chemistry that it developed late last season with Bray at the helm, and it's a fearless bunch that seems to be on the same page. Cincinnati has a chip on its shoulder after falling out of the national picture last season.
Tennessee 45, Cincinnati 41
There's no reason to expect a lot of defense at Neyland Stadium, but eventually somebody has to get a couple stops.