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GAME 1: Lane Kiffin Era Opens With Contest Against Western Kentucky
Season Openers: UT has won more than three-quarters
of its season openers, going 82-24-6 (.759) dating
to 1891. In the last 25 seasons, Tennessee is 20-3-2
(.860) in season openers. Of those 25 games, 12 were
played against teams not currently in a BCS conference,
and the Vols are a perfect 12-0 in those contests.
Home Openers: The Vols have been even more
dominant in home openers, going 88-18-5 (.815) all-time
in the first game at Neyland Stadium each season. Tennessee
has won 14 consecutive home openers dating to
the 1994 season.
Coaching Debuts: Lane Kiffin is Tennessee's 21st
head coach, and he has the opportunity to be the 17th to
win his inaugural game. Tennessee coaches are 16-4 alltime
in their first game as coach, though General Robert
R. Neyland had three "first" games, going 3-0 and improving
the overall mark to 18-4.
On Sept. 5: Tennessee is 5-1 all-time on Sept. 5. In
their last five contests on that date, the Vols have averaged
38.2 points per game.
vs. the Sun Belt: Tennessee and Western Kentucky
have never met on the gridiron, but the Vols are 5-1 alltime
against teams that currently comprise the Sun Belt
Win Streaks: Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin inherits
two wins streaks concerning the Western Kentucky
game. The Vols have won 14-consecutive home openers
since a 1994 loss to Florida in Knoxville. Tennessee
has also won five straight vs. teams now in the Sun Belt
Conference since a 1975 loss to North Texas State.
A win would: A victory over Western Kentucky would
be the first season-opening win for the Vols since 2006.
It would also make Lane Kiffin the 17th out of 21 UT head
coaches to earn a win in his debut.
A loss would: A loss would be Tennessee's third straight
in a season opening game and its second-ever
loss to a Sun Belt Conference team.
New Network: Tennessee gets the privilege of being
the first SEC team to play on the SEC Network, which
will air one SEC home game in syndication each week
for the duration of the 2009 season. The Vols are 6-4-2
all-time in their first appearance on a television network.
Kiffin Coaches Football Too
Tennessee hired Lane Kiffin as its 21st head football
coach on Dec. 1, 2008. The Vols new coach--the
youngest head coach in FBS and one of 11 in college
football with NFL head coaching experience--will finally
coach a game after an offseason spent raising the profile
of Tennessee football.
Star-Studded Staff: Kiffin's first task was assembling
a well-respected coaching staff that included his father
and famed NFL defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, former
Ole Miss head coach Ed Orgeron, four other assistants
with SEC coaching experience and two more with
NFL coaching credentials to their credit.
Top-10 Class: Kiffin had just two weeks with his full
staff, but still managed to sign a recruiting class on Feb.
4 that ranked among the best in the nation according to
the major recruiting services. The class included the No.1
ranked player in the country, running back Bryce Brown.
Making His Media Mark: Kiffin has appeared almost
everywhere since taking the reins of the UT football. His
offseason media resume includes a Sports Illustrated
cover and feature, a Sporting News feature, an ESPN
Outside the Line piece, and a USA Today front-page
Camp Kiffin: Kiffin got the attention of his players,
the fans and local media by having physical, full-contact
practices throughout fall camp and opening those workouts
to the fans.
Healthy Hardesty Emerges From Crowded Backfield
Tennessee enters the 2009 season with four healthy
scholarship running backs and only room for three in
Lane Kiffin's offensive rotation. Senior Montario Hardesty
made sure he had the first of those spots during fall
camp, emerging early on as the Vols top back.
The senior from New Bern, N.C. has rushed for 1,046
career yards and worked primarily as a goal-line back last
season, scoring six touchdowns. Hardesty is injury-free
for the first time in his college career and hoping for a
breakout senior season.
Crompton Gets The Call at QB
Lane Kiffin named Jonathan Crompton his starting
quarterback three weeks into fall camp, and the senior
from Waynesville, N.C. is intent on making the most of a
second chance under center after losing his job to backup
Nick Stephens after four games last season.
Crompton has played under four different offensive coordinators
in his five seasons on Rocky Top, performing
his best under David Cutcliffe in a brief starting stint in
place of an injured Erik Ainge in 2006. His best effort in
2008 was a 240-yard, two touchdown game vs. UAB
early in the season.
Sullins Wins Starting Job at Center
The clearest proof of Lane Kiffin's every-position-isalways-
up-for-grabs philosophy is that senior center and
former walk-on Cody Sullins beat out Josh McNeil, a
three-year starter with a 35-game start streak, for the right
to play the first offensive snap vs. Western Kentucky.
Sullins is has lettered in each of the last two seasons
and was put on scholarship by former head coach Phillip
Fulmer prior to the 2008 season. He has played in just
five career games and never previously started.
McNeil is a former Freshman All-America and honorable
mention All-SEC selection, but battled injuries
throughout fall camp.
Stocker Wins Tight End Battle
One position that did not go through its fair share of
offseason fluctuation was tight end, where two seasoned
veterans return for 2009. Senior Jeff Cottam (35 career
games) and junior Luke Stocker (2008 starter) battled
throughout camp with Stocker eventually winning the job.
The two have combined for 21 career catches for 169
yards, but both will see significant time in 2009 thanks to
their experience and blocking prowess.
Youth Should Equal Depth at Tailback
While Montario Hardesty clearly set himself apart from
Tennessee's younger running backs in fall camp, the Vols
have a sophomore and two true freshmen who will all see
the field in 2009. Tauren Poole returns with a 3.9 yardsper-
carry average from limited action last season and has
been elusive throughout fall camp.
Joining Poole are two of the nation's top running back
recruits in Bryce Brown and David Oku. Brown has
worked with the first team in camp and Oku will at least
see kick return duty.
Injuries Present Opportunity at WR
Injuries to three of Tennessee's top returning wide receivers
presented ample opportunity for incoming freshmen
and position transfers to make their mark during fall
Injuries to Austin Rogers (leg--season) and Denarius
Moore (foot--2-4 weeks) and Gerald Jones (ankle--3-6
weeks) mean Quintin Hancock and Brandon Warren and
will carry the pass-catching load among returning players.
Hancock did not catch a pass in 2008 and Warren
moved from tight end during spring practice.
Tennessee will have a total of 279 career receiving
yards in its wideout corps for the Western Kentucky
Newcomers that took advantage of an opportunity during
camp include Nu'Keese Richardson and Marsalis
Teague who worked themselves onto the two-deep depth
Experience Makes Safety a Strength
All-America safety Eric Berry is the unquestioned star
of the UT secondary, and he has a mixed bag of experience
and youth around him. The Vols return one other
starter in Dennis Rogan and several experienced backups
from the 2008 unit that helped Tennessee finish
fourth in the nation in pass defense and tied for 20th interceptions.
Rogan has moved to free safety after starting
10 games at right corner last season.
Marsalous Johnson also returns with three years experience
and nine career starts, likely to play in the nickel
Brent Vinson, a starter in 2007, also returns but has
battled injuries throughout fall camp.
Three other Vols expected to see their first significant
playing time are corners Art Evans and Anthony Anderson
along with safety Prentiss Waggner. Three newcomers
will also see action in corner Mike Edwards and
safeties Darren Myles, Jr. and Janzen Jackson.
Berry, Rogan and Johnson combined for 136 tackles,
eight interceptions and 14 passes defensed last season.