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Tennessee opens season Thursday evening against Bowling Green

The Josh Heupel Era is underway!

NCAA Football: Alabama at Tennessee Bryan Lynn-USA TODAY Sports

The Tennessee Volunteers become the first SEC team to take the field this season when they host the Bowling Green Falcons Thursday night at Neyland Stadium.

How to watch or stream

Time: 8 p.m. ET


Stream: WatchESPN

Line: Tennessee -34.5

Total: 60.5

Last Meeting: Tennessee opened the 2015 season with a 59-30 victory over Bowling Green.

The two big stories to watch for the Vols on Thursday night will be pretty simple. The first one has to do with new head coach Josh Heupel. Heupel is Tennessee’s fourth coach since Phil Fulmer stepped down after the 2008 season. Those four coaches (Lane Kiffin, Derek Dooley, Butch Jones, Jeremy Pruitt) combined to go 72-73 in their tenures, following Fulmer’s 152-52 run as Tennessee’s top man.

Simply put, Tennessee has desperately tried and failed to find a coach to bring them back to their glory days. Can Heupel change that? He led UCF to a 28-8 record over the past three seasons, and his 28 wins in three seasons rank ninth among head coaches over that time. A new coach always brings an opportunity for a fresh start and a renewed sense of optimism, but it feels like Heupel could actually be different than Tennessee’s last four coaches.

The other big story for the Vols is the quarterback situation. Michigan transfer Joe Milton beat out last year’s starter Harrison Bailey and Virginia Tech transfer Hendon Hooker to secure the starting job for Tennessee. Milton served mostly in a backup role at Michigan, attempting 152 passes and throwing five touchdowns over the last three seasons. Milton still has a lot of potential, and there’s a lot to like about him being paired with Heupel’s great offensive mind. Milton will almost certainly find success against Bowling Green, but as the season goes on, it will be interesting to see how he looks against some of the better teams on Tennessee’s schedule.

On the Bowling Green side, things are a bit of a mess. The Falcons went 0-5 in last year’s shortened season, bringing head coach Scot Loeffler’s career record to 3-14. There are just 16 players on the Bowling Green roster this year who have started a game for the school before, so there will be a lot of attempting to figure things out on the fly. Quarterback Matt McDonald passed for just one touchdown last season and six interceptions.