Tennessee Stat Book
We've had 24 hours to digest the heroes and contributors from Tennessee's win over North Carolina State on Friday night.
Did you notice who wasn't among them?
And, no, I don't mean Da'Rick Rogers.
Where were the freshmen?
"It's very different from the last two years,'' coach Derek Dooley said. "That's for sure.''
That quote was from earlier in the week, before the Vols went to Atlanta and exorcised the Georgia Dome voodoo with a 35-21 win over the boys from Raleigh.
The official participation chart lists Deion Bonner and Cody Blanc getting on the field Friday night. That's it as far as true freshmen being called on in the 2012 season opener.
What a departure from Dooley's previous two season openers.
In 2010, Dooley installed Ju'Wuan James in the starting lineup at right tackle against UT-Martin and played 11 other true freshmen. That's how threadbare the roster was that he inherited from Lane Kiffin.
In 2011, A.J. Johnson and Curt Maggitt started their first college games at linebacker. Ten other true freshmen saw action against Montana.
Even back in 2009, Kiffin played a dozen true freshmen against Western Kentucky. Three of them scored touchdowns.
Fast forward to Friday night. In the heat of the moment, I didn't even notice Bonner or Blanc on the field, but I'll assume they were.
At some point in the first half, I scanned the sideline with my binoculars just to verify freshmen were even in the building. They were.
They just weren't needed. Not to start. Not for anything more than a cameo in two cases.
And that's progress, folks.
For the first time in his UT tenure, Dooley finally has a roster that looks like an SEC roster. He has seniors, though not many. He has juniors and even sophomores who are battle tested.
Earlier this week, N.C. State coach Tom O'Brien twice referred to Tennessee as an "SEC powerhouse.'' Dooley's first two teams were 4-12 in SEC play. The wins came against Ole Miss, Kentucky and Vanderbilt (twice).
If that's a powerhouse, I'm George Clooney.
But perhaps O'Brien wasn't exaggerating as much as I thought. Maybe he saw studying the videotape what we all saw in the Georgia Dome.
We saw an offense make big plays. We saw the running game finally take hold in the second half. We saw the defense disrupting N.C. State with bit hits and big interceptions.
What we didn't see is freshmen running around trying to figure out what they were supposed to be doing.
There were three 2012 signees in the starting lineup, but all three have had time to mature in the junior college ranks.
I'm not suggesting the Vols are championship contenders based on one night of football. Dooley certainly wouldn't either.
And to be fair, he no doubt would have played a couple more freshmen in the opener if they hadn't been injured. We likely would have seen Pig Howard in the receiving rotation and LaTroy Lewis at linebacker.
"It's a combination of things,'' Dooley said. "A lot of 'em weren't able to go out and compete and get in the two-deep (because of injuries).
"But we've got a lot more guys in the upper classes who have shown they can go out and produce.''
That's different. That's progress.