If you’ve been focused on Tennessee football opening the season on Thursday night, you might not have paid attention to how deeply connected the Vols have been to games pre-Week 1 Saturday games this year. Five of their 2022 opponents, including their first three of the season, are all playing Thursday.
Obviously, their first opponent, the Ball State Cardinals, would naturally play them Thursday since they are playing. However, the most intriguing game of the night is actually between the Pittsburgh Panthers and the West Virginia Mountaineers, revitalizing the Backyard Brawl.
Next week, Tennessee football will travel to Pitt to face Pat Narduzzi’s team, and this is the first look they’ll provide without Kenny Pickett and Jordan Addison. WVU is a great test for them, so Vol fans should absolutely tune in to this one.
Beyond Pitt, though, the Akron Zips are also playing Thursday night. UT will face Akron at home the week after they face Pitt. Akron is entering a new era under head coach Joe Moorhead, the former head coach of the Mississippi State Bulldogs, and they will face an FCS program, the St. Francis Red Flash, to open the season.
It’s not likely Akron will be able to provide the Vols with much information given who they play, but Josh Heupel doesn’t need that much information on them. Akron was awful last year and is under the leadership of a new head coach, so Rocky Top will sleepwalk to victory against them.
In fact, Akron is the easiest team on their schedule, even easier than Tennessee football’s one FCS foe, the UT-Martin Skyhawks. Speaking of UT-Martin, by the way, they also open the season Thursday night against the Western Illinois Leathernecks.
UT-Martin returns a ton of talent from last year’s Ohio Valley Conference Championship team. Jason Simpson is entering his 17th season there. The Vols will face them on Oct. 22, right after they face the Alabama Crimson Tide and a week before they face the Kentucky Wildcats.
Since Western Illinois went 2-9 last year, they won’t provide Vol fans with much to scout for anyway, as UT-Martin should blow them out of the water. As a result, the only game that will really be worth paying attention to, outside of their own, will be Pitt-WVU.
Then there are the Missouri Tigers. Eli Drinkwitz’s team opens up the year against the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs. A few years ago, that might have been a game worth scouting, but Louisiana Tech is going through a transition of its own and will likely be awful this year. They play the Vols in late November anyway.
Of course, if we expand it to pre-Week 1 Saturday games, the Vanderbilt Commodores are a sixth team on the Vols’ schedule who played a game. They obviously blew out the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors 63-10 last week, and while Hawaii is awful, that level of dominance was worth paying attention to.
Heupel’s former school, the UCF Knights open the season against the South Carolina State Bulldogs Thursday. Tennessee football’s bowl opponent from last year, the Purdue Boilermakers, face the Penn State Nittany Lions Thursday. Simply put, this is a loaded day with games connected to the Vols, more than usual.