Dooley, players preview Tennessee vs. Akron
The spotlight has moved on from Neyland Stadium. The sellout crowd and ESPN GameDay have left the building.
What's coming to our city on Saturday night? Why, it's the Akron Zips.
Why should you, the deflated, heartbroken Tennessee football fan, care about the Akron Zips?
Granted, that's a tough sell under the circumstances.
The hangover of losing to Florida (again) lingers. And Akron isn't exactly hair of the dog that bit you. A meaningful cure will have to wait.
The Vols are favored by five touchdowns Saturday night, which raises the question: If you put Akron and Georgia State in identical green uniforms, could anybody tell the difference?
The answer is "yes.''
Tennessee's coaching staff could tell the difference.
"The one thing you know about any Bowden, and Terry especially, is they know how to score a lot of points,'' Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said earlier this week.
"And they're scoring about 40 points a game, 400 yards throwing the ball, spreading it out. It's going to be a whole different dynamic again on trying to stop these guys.''
So, Akron, in its first year under coach Terry Bowden, can jack up some offensive stats — and points, if you're not paying attention.
There's another way to distinguish Akron from Georgia State. Bill Curry's team from Atlanta is a fledgling program. The Zips have a long history in that league of occasional giant-slayers, the Mid-American Conference.
MAC teams can be counted on annually to knock off a BCS opponent or two, almost always on the road in a hostile environment.
Ohio University did exactly that earlier this month at Penn State. Ball State beat
Indiana for the second consecutive year.
In the past decade, Central Michigan has won at Michigan State, Toledo has won at Michigan, Akron beat N.C. State and Ohio has won at Kentucky.
The MAC was never more dangerous than in 2003. Marshall stunned No. 6 Kansas State. Northern Illinois upset No. 15 Maryland and then won at No. 21 Alabama. Bowling Green beat Purdue and Northwestern.
Can't happen here, you say. The Vols trucked Buffalo last year, 41-10.
True, but it is instructive to review the MAC's three previous visits to Neyland this decade.
In 2009, Lane Kiffin's Vols were a 23-point favorite over Ohio. It wasn't that easy.
The Bobcats led 14-7, then trailed only 24-20 in the second half.
UT was up 31-20, then Ohio returned a Jonathan Crompton fumble 46 yards for a touchdown. The crowd regained its breath when a review nullified the play. The Bobcat defender had a foot out of bounds when he made the recovery. UT won 34-23.
In 2008, Northern Illinois arrived amid Tennessee's struggles with the "Clawfense.''
The half was 3-3 before Nick Stephens and Denarius Moore hooked up on a 52-yard bomb, the game's only touchdown.
UT led 13-9 when the Huskies lost their starting quarterback. That was the final score.
In 2003, Tennessee's offense was healthier, but Marshall gave the Vols a scare before falling 34-24.
There was an uneasy feeling that the Herd might have pulled the upset if quarterback Stan Hill hadn't limped to the sideline for good after throwing a TD pass to cut UT's lead to 28-24 in the third quarter.
The point is that these are vulnerable times for Tennessee football. Wyoming proved that in 2008. Dooley's first team needed overtime to beat UAB.
The 2012 Vols are superior to either one of those teams. But given Akron's pedigree and its coach, it would be wise to pay attention.
I would not pick Akron to pull off a stunner Saturday night. But their chances of making things interesting?
They're better than zip.