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The Pack hasn’t opened the season at a neutral site since the 1992 Kickoff Classic, when it defeated No. 15 Iowa in East Rutherford, N.J. The Pack will also be opening its season with an SEC opponent for the third time in the last five seasons. NC State traveled to South Carolina in 2008, and then hosted the Gamecocks in 2009. For the first time since 1939, the Vols will play a regular-season game on Friday.
The 2011 campaign opened up promising for Tennessee, as the Derek Dooley-led program came out of the gates at 3-1. Things began to spiral out of control from there however, as the Vols lost six of their final eight games, which included a four-game losing streak from Oct. 8 to Oct. 29. They finished 5-7 overall and in last place in the SEC East (1-7).
QB Tyler Bray returns and he was one of the conference’s most effective signal-caller as a sophomore, completing 59.5 percent of his passes for 1,983 yards with an impressive 17- to-6 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Bray put up solid numbers despite missing five games with a broken thumb.
Meanwhile, fifth-year head coach Tom O’Brien led NC State to an impressive 8-5 mark (4-4 in the ACC’s Atlantic Division). The Wolfpack really came on strong toward the end of the season, closing with three straight wins, including at nationally-ranked Clemson (37-13), and over Louisville in the Belk Bowl (31-24).
QB Mike Glennon was spectacular in his first year as a starter, completing better than 62 percent of his passes for 3,054 yards and 31 touchdowns. He’s back.
NC State will be missing a key starter for this game. Senior cornerback C.J. Wilson, who graduated last December, has started 29 games in three years and ended the spring as the starter opposite All-American corner David Amerson. Wilson had 31 tackles and an interception last season but will miss this game with an eligibility issue.
Breaking into the starting lineup against the Volunteers will be sophomore running back Tony Creecy and sophomore linebacker Brandon Pittman. Creecy, second on the team in rushing last season, usurped the starting job from James Washington, who is the backup.
Tennessee has won four consecutive August games. UT is opening the season at a neutral site for the first time since defeating Wyoming in Nashville. UT is 85-24-6 (.765) in season openers dating back to 1891. In the last 28 seasons, Tennessee is 23-3-2 (.857) in season openers. Of those 28 games, 13 were played against teams currently in a BCS conference, and UT is 8-3-2 (.692) in those games.
The Wolfpack have beaten the Vols two out of the three times they have met, but this marks the first matchup between the two since 1939.