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Bowling Green Falcons vs. No. 25 Tennessee Volunteers football: Q&A with Rocky Top Talk

Our friend at SB Nation's Tennessee Volunteers community sits down to discuss this Saturday's game in Nashville against Bowling Green.

Phil Sears-USA TODAY Sports

With the Mid-American Conference's Bowling Green Falcons heading to Nashville to face the Tennessee Volunteers on Saturday, Hustle Belt spoke with Will Shelton (@wshelton2), senior writer and editor at SB Nation site RockyTopTalk.com.  Will gives us his insight into a MAC vs. SEC match-up on opening weekend.

Hustle Belt:  As you know, Butch Jones has Mid-American Conference experience as an assistant and head coach at Central Michigan. How has he been received by the folks in Knoxville so far?

Will Shelton: The reception was lukewarm at first, but only because Vol fans believed the dream of Jon Gruden and then thought Charlie Strong had agreed to take the job. Butch seemed like a distant third place, but his recruiting changed that perception and has given Tennessee a talent base it has not had since Phillip Fulmer's time. I'm not sure Gruden or Strong would have recruited as well as Butch has the last two years, he's done an unbelievable job there reaching kids who were barely alive the last time Tennessee was in the national championship conversation. Butch has also done all the rah-rah stuff a fanbase as football-serious as Tennessee's demands, and beat a ranked team in 2013, something Derek Dooley could not do in three years. Combine all of this with Tennessee's strong finish last fall, and Tennessee fans are very high on Butch Jones right now.

HB:  Jones has had some banner recruiting classes the last few years and now has the Vols in the preseason top 25 rankings. Is this a pivotal year for him and the program?

WS: I don't think this is a make-or-break year by any means; most of Tennessee's recruiting stars are still freshmen and sophomores, which should make next year the on-paper arrival date for the Vols. As long as Tennessee continues to make progress, Butch is going to be fine. Believe it or not, 8-4 would be the best year in Knoxville since 2007; Tennessee is 40-47 in the last seven years. Some fans see the potential of this team and know they could win 9 or 10 games if things break right and the Vols stay healthy, and the SEC East is very unsettled behind Georgia. But even if the Vols don't reach that particular goal, as long as Tennessee wins at least eight games I think he'll be able to continue to find success on the recruiting trail, and the Vols will continue to move forward.

HB:  It sounds like the team has been hit pretty hard with injuries this off-season and in camp, especially on the offensive line. How's the team's overall health coming into the opener?

WS: The Vols lost returning starter Marcus Jackson at left guard to a torn bicep, then projected starter Rashaan Gaulden at nickelback with a fractured foot. They also lost reserve guard Austin Sanders to the same bicep injury. Depth is the last stage of a rebuild, and while the Vols do have quality depth at a few spots now, there are others - linebacker, tight end - where the experience gap between the first and second team is quite wide.

HB:  What can you tell us about Joshua Dobbs at quarterback, and should we expect the Vols to pound the ball in this one, given the Vols depth at running back and the fact that the Falcons were terrible against the run last year?

WS: Dobbs' greatest strengths as a runner have more to do with instinct than pure speed. He's very good at knowing when to run and when to be patient. Tennessee didn't have the offensive line to go downfield a lot last year, and Dobbs still struggled against strong pass rushes like Missouri's, but when given a reasonable amount of time to throw he's very accurate. I do think Tennessee will lean more heavily on the run this year with sophomore Jalen Hurd and newcomer Alvin Kamara, an Alabama transfer, giving the Vols two backs they really believe in alongside Dobbs. In the last six games of the season Tennessee averaged right at 30 passing attempts; I think they'd like to see that number come down just a bit.

HB:  Bowling Green plays a spread offense and likes to play fast...like running a play every 15 seconds fast. I know you guys are in the SEC, but has the Tennessee defense played against many "hurry-up offenses" in the past few years?

WS: Two years ago Butch's first team got a big dose of this kind of pace, playing both Oregon and Auburn. Neither went well for the Vol defense, but I think it had more to do with overall talent than tempo.  Last year the fastest team Tennessee faced was Arkansas State, and the Vols held them to 4.2 yards per play in a 34-19 win. The Vols themselves want to go faster this year; they were noticeably swifter in the bowl game against Iowa, building a 42-7 lead in 2.5 quarters. Bowling Green has been doing it faster and longer than the Vols, so there may be a small adjustment necessary, but nothing too different from what the Vols have seen the last two years.

HB:  Any significance in this game being played in Nashville?

WS: Tennessee has always scheduled aggressively in the non-conference, playing an elite opponent almost every season. In the last 15 years the Vols have played home-and-home series with Notre Dame (twice), Miami, Cal, UCLA, Oregon, and get the return date with Oklahoma this year. But Butch Jones and athletic director Dave Hart have moved to the neutral site games in a big way: the Vols are in Nashville to open this year, play Virginia Tech at Bristol Motor Speedway next year, help open the Falcons' new stadium against Georgia Tech in 2017, and have West Virginia on Charlotte in 2018. The Vols don't have another home-and-home on the books until Pittsburgh in the next decade. Part of this has to do with an entertainment tax Knox County imposes on each home game, something none of the other schools in the SEC have to deal with. Fans hope that gets resolved soon; the neutral site games are nice attractions and all are within driving distance, but there's just nothing like getting to go to some of college football's best locations and have those teams come to Knoxville as well.

HB:  With Oklahoma up next on the schedule and Florida in two weeks after that, any way the Vols are caught looking past Bowling Green? Got a prediction?

WS: Maybe a bit of look-ahead to Oklahoma. Last year the Vols opened with Utah State, a similarly-dangerous mid-major, but easily handled business in a 38-7 win. I'm not sure how much better or worse this Bowling Green team is, but the Vols should be significantly better and given BGSU's defensive issues last year, I think the Vols simply run away from them eventually. The Falcons should score enough points to make some around here sweat a little, but I'll take the Vols to pull away 45-20.