Last time out: Vols lost to Kentucky, 10-7, for the first time since 1984 and ended 5-7 overall, 1-7 in the SEC.
Name to know: QB Tyler Bray. A 6-foot-6 junior, he threw for 17 touchdowns and six interceptions in an injury-shortened season. Bray is fully recovered from a broken right thumb on his throwing hand and hell be expected to carry a Tennessee offense that returns nine starters.
Scouting report: The Vols ranked 116th in rushing offense, 104th in total offense and 106th in scoring offense last season. See why they went 1-7 in the SEC? Brays injury did not help. The loss of top receiver DaRick Rogers, who has left the program, wont help this season either, although theres talent at receiver, particularly in junior Justin Hunter.
Junior running back Rajion Neal will be relied upon to overhaul a ground game which averaged 90.08 yards per game.
As much as the Vols struggled on offense, the defense was relatively sound, save for blowout losses at Alabama and Arkansas. The Vols were 28th in the country last year in total defense and 36th in scoring. Coordinator Sal Sunseri was brought in from Alabama to run the defense and will use a 3-4 scheme. The secondary, led by safety Prentiss Waggner, is the strength of the defense.
Bottom line: Coach Derek Dooley inherited a mess from Lane Kiffin after 2010, Kiffins sole season in Knoxville, and he has been sledding uphill since. Roster attrition has been the biggest problem for Dooley, who is 11-14 in two seasons, and it only got worse last week with the dismissal of Rogers.
Given Tennessees historical success, and span since conference relevance five years (an eternity in SEC years) its go time for Dooley, who has the pedigree to build a winner, if he can survive the slow start.
Last time out: The Phoenix ended a 5-6 season with a 28-24 November loss against Appalachian State.
Name to know: WR Aaron Mellette. At 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, Mellette possesses more than enough size to compete on a higher level of college football. He has the necessary skills, too. Mellette, a senior, led the Football Championship Subdivision with 113 receptions for 1,639 yards. He caught at least nine passes in seven of Elons 2011 games including an 11-catch, 180-yard performance in a 45-14 loss at Vanderbilt to open last season.
Mellette immediately stood out to UNC coach Larry Fedora when he began to study film. Fedora said, I would say watching film on that kid, he can play anywhere in the country he can make you miss and he catches hes got great body control, catches the ball in traffic. So thats a problem It will be a great test for us defensively to find out where were at.
Scouting report: Elon has the third-most Southern Conference victories over the past five seasons, but its in a rebuilding phase. Elon was picked seventh in its nine-team conference. The Phoenix boasts a capable passing offense, led by Mellette and quarterback Thomas Wilson, but there are questions elsewhere. Elons running game generated just 101.8 yards per game last season, and the Phoenix ranked 120th among FCS teams in turnover margin.
Defensively, Elon ranked 100th among FCS teams in points allowed (32.6 per game). The Phoenix has shown a tendency to blitz often, which could leave it susceptible against North Carolinas up-tempo spread offense.
Bottom line: Even though he plays on a lower level, Mellette is as capable of a receiver as UNC will see, and he will provide a legitimate test for the Tar Heels 4-2-5 defense. But Elon lacks the overall depth to seriously challenge UNC, which should use the first game of Fedoras coaching tenure as a tune-up.
Last time out: Golden Panthers finished 8-5 with a 20-10 loss to Marshall in the Beef O Bradys Bowl
Name to know: DL Tourek Williams. A 6-foot-4, 262-pound senior, he was selected as the Sun Belt Conferences Preseason Defensive Player of the Year. Williams likely will leave as the schools all-time leader in sacks, sack yardage, tackles for loss and tackles for loss yardage. As an All-Sun Belt second-team selection last year, Williams posted 32 total tackles, including 13 for loss and 4.5 sacks.
Scouting report: Florida International received three votes in the coaches poll, and it wasnt by accident. The Golden Panthers return 10 of 11 starters from a unit that was ranked 30th in total defense. In addition to Williams, DL Isame Faciane, LB Winston Fraser and DB Johnathan Cyprien also were named to the preseason all-conference first team.
On offense, the Golden Panthers are breaking in both a new coordinator Tim Cramsey, coming from New Hampshire and quarterback. Redshirt sophomore Jake Medlock is expected to start and lead the spread offense. He started two games last season, including an 18-of-24 for 135 yards and a touchdown in a 41-7 win against Florida Atlantic. Junior RB Kedrick Rhodes ran for a season school record 1,149 yards last season.
Bottom line: FIU might lack name recognition nationally, but most of the pieces from last years bowl team are back and it was picked to win the Sun Belt in its final season before jumping to Conference USA. Dukes ailing defense, which ranked last in the ACC against the run last season, will have a tough task stopping Rhodes.
Last time out: The Flames ended a 7-4 with a 41-31 loss at Stony Brook.
Name to know: DB/KR Kevin Fogg. A senior from Apex, Fogg is a true game-changer. He led FCS with a 33.5 kickoff-return average, which also set a Big South record. He returned three kicks for touchdowns and set a program record with 771 total return yards. On defense, he intercepted three passes, returning one 88 yards for a touchdown. For good measure, he blocked a field-goal attempt, forced two fumbles and recovered another.
Scouting report: Liberty received votes in the FCS Top 25 and has enough talent that Wake Forest shouldnt look beyond this game to North Carolina. The Flames offense will be anchored by T Malcolm Boyd, as well as dangerous receiver Pat Kelly, who finished with 40 catches for 591 yards and three scores last season. In addition to Fogg, Liberty has standouts on defense in LB Nick Sigmon, T Francis Bah and DB Walt Aikens.
Bottom line: New coach Turner Gill has 15 starters back from a team that won five league games. A Big South championship isnt out of the question, but the Flames will have to figure out a way to beat defending champ Stony Brook when they play Nov. 10 in Lynchburg, Va.
Last time out: The Mountaineers finished 8-4 last season, losing in first round of the FCS playoffs.
Name to know: QB Jamal Jackson. The son of longtime NFL defensive back Greg Jackson, Jamal started just seven games last season but threw for a school sophomore record 2,001 yards, added 296 rushing and accounted for 22 touchdowns 15 passing, seven rushing. Hes a big-time weapon for us, offensive coordinator Scott Satterfield said.
Scouting report: Although the Mountaineers offense is in Jacksons capable hands, there are questions at the other skill positions. Seniors Rod Chisholm and Steven Miller figure to split time at running back. All-American Brian Quick has graduated, leaving little experience at receiver. Appalachian States defense figures to be stout, led by linebacker Jeremy Kimbrough and cornerback Demetrius McCray, both of whom are preseason All-Americans.
Bottom line: Appalachian State rallied but just fell short at ECU three years ago, so it has the Pirates attention. Nobody in Boone is happy with how last season ended. That might be a good year for most programs, but Appalachian is not most programs, Jackson said. This year, were going to get back on track.