CFB Preview: No. 17 Tennessee-Virginia Tech

Saturday is another chance for Tennessee and Virginia Tech to start their engines after near misfires to open the 2016 college football season.

So much is being made about the venue for this weekend's matchup of No. 17 Tennessee and Virginia Tech and the prospect for a college football attendance record to be set, it could be easy to look past their flawed efforts last week.

And that's not good for either team.

“I'm really excited about the opportunity that we have,” Hokies veteran defensive coordinator Bud Foster, the senior member of first-year coach Justin Fuentes' staff, said of the a game that has national TV billing and is being hailed as a virtual holiday in the bordering states. “Obviously, everybody's talking about the stage that we're going to play on, but it's not about that. It's about the game.

“And we're playing a dynamic football program and I'm excited about the opportunity to go play those guys. It just happens to be in one of the pretty special venues.

“It's going to be a special game for our fans and, hopefully, our players.”

The Vols and Hokies will clash Saturday at 8 p.m. ET before an expected crowd of 150,000 at Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tennessee, in what is being billed as “The Battle at Bristol.”

Talked about since 1998, the game at what is sometimes referred to as “the last great Colosseum” became a reality when the final agreement was announced three years ago.

It's not the first time Bristol has been the site for a football game. That was back in 1961 when about 10,000 fans showed up for an exhibition game between the NFL's Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles when Bristol Speedway held about twice that number.

The facility has grown considerably since then, and fans are expected to shatter the current college football record attendance of 115,109 set in 2013 when Michigan hosted Notre Dame.

“It will be exciting,” Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs said. “There will be a lot of people there. We're setting the college football record in everything. So, it will be an exciting atmosphere and an exciting opportunity for the team.”

But it's still a game, and that can't be forgotten.

“If we are more focused on the environment than actually football itself, then we won't come out on top,” Dobbs said. “We have to be locked in to the game plan and locked in from the first snap.”

Both teams come into the matchup having won their openers, but neither was all that impressive, the Vols in particular.

They trailed Sun Belt Conference contender Appalachian State 13-3 at home at halftime before getting things together to pull out a 20-13 victory in overtime. The Vols dropped from No. 9 in the preseason poll to 17th.

“Everyone in our program has to have a tremendous sense of urgency to make the progress that's necessary from Game One to Game Two,” Tennessee coach Butch Jones said. “Had an opportunity to watch a lot of football over the course of the weekend, and I know everybody strives for perfection, but it's far and few in between from it happening.

“That's why it's the first game. There are no preseason games so you find out a lot about your football team. We're still building our identity, but I thought there was a lot of things to really build upon from the game Thursday night.”

Dobbs, a senior leader for the Vols, said everything about the performance wasn't negative.

“We ran for about 130 yards, so we were doing some good things,” he said. “Any time you run over 100 yards, it's a productive day on the ground.

“Now, it's about finishing drives in the red zone and taking advantage. If you look back on it, during the second and third quarter they had the ball the whole time. We had three or four drives in two quarters.

“That was the situation I was given, and I had to take advantage of each opportunity I had the ball, and keep myself in good situations, and move the ball down the field effectively.”

The Hokies weren't pressed to the end of their opener, finishing with a 36-13 victory over Liberty. But they led only 17-13 until scoring a touchdown with 24 seconds left in the second quarter to take an 11-point lead at the half, and they lost four fumbles to the FCS foe.

“We need to get better at all three phases of the game,” Fuentes said. “By and large, we tried to be intelligent with the football. Obviously, we made some mistakes but we were able to overcome them and win the game.”