I am, for a lack of a better word, an expat. I was born in West Virginia and my education has brought me to Tennessee. Two hours away from Knoxville, actually. I also married into a devout Tennessee Volunteers family full of UT alumni and “super fans” that rival even the rowdiest Mountaineer.
Yes, for many years now I have sipped the orange Kool-aid and pledged a small amount of my fandom to the Vols. My true loyalties, however, have never been called into question. West Virginia is my school, my state. The friends I’ve made down here on “Rocky Top” will undoubtedly become my enemies on September 1st.
After several years of immersing myself into the Tennessee culture, I’ve learned many things about the Volunteers and its fans.
Here is what you should expect if you plan on making the trip to Charlotte for the season opener.
The Fanbase….and Moonshine
There are actually a lot of similarities between the two fan bases. One in particular is that both travel very, very well. Charlotte is familiar terrain for those who live in east Tennessee. And if you think last year’s 4-8 record will hinder their turnout for the season opener, you’re in for a surprise. There will be a lot of orange at Bank of America stadium come September 1st, so prepare yourself. And if you think you hate their fight song (“Rocky Top”) from afar, wait until you have to listen to it 50+ times live and in person. Tennessee fans are proud of their flagship university just like we are of ours. There’s also a lot of excitement surrounding first-year head coach Jeremy Pruitt.
Despite all the hype and praise Pruitt has received, Tennessee fans are still grounded in their expectations of the coming season. You’ll always have an unrealistic homer or two to bring down the collective IQ of a fan base, but for the most part, Vols fans don’t expect to walk out of Charlotte 1-0. Will Grier has broken Tennessee fans’ hearts before and they expect he’ll do much of the same in a few weeks.
Now, about this moonshine thing. I understand good ‘ole white lightning is mostly reserved for West Virginians but down here, it’s crazy popular. Don’t be surprised when you walk around and see Mason Jars being passed around freely between tailgates.
Pruitt has been pretty coy about naming a starter for the season opener in Charlotte, but the belief is Guarantano’s familiarity with the offense will give him the nod. He was uninspiring during his freshman season a year ago but the New Jersey native is an NFL talent. The issue last season was he didn’t really know the offense and was thrown directly into the fire after Quinten Dormady went down with a season-ending shoulder injury. Guarantano now has a full additional year of starter’s minutes and most importantly, an understanding of what is expected from a big-time college football quarterback. More so, Guarantano has a more than capable offensive coordinator in Tyson Helton to further his development. Helton was the passing game coordinator at Southern California the past two seasons where he guided former top-five draft pick Sam Darnold to 7,229 passing yards and 57 touchdowns.
Strength vs Strength
Heading into 2018, the Vols are going to rely on its talent-laden defensive line as the pillar for Tennessee’s defense. On the other side, the Mountaineers boast one of the most experienced and biggest offensive lines in the country. In a roundabout way, the battle between these two position groups will ultimately decide the outcome of the game. Anchored by All-Big XII tackle Yodny Cajuste, West Virginia’s offensive line is tasked with keeping Will Grier upright. But Tennessee’s Shy Tuttle and Jonathan Kongbo may be the best defensive line duo the Mountaineers face all season long.