Playing a solid opponent in Game 1 is a monumental risk/reward opportunity. A win can be the kick-start of a strong season, whereas a loss can be a harbinger of doom.
One game does not a season make, of course, but historical precedent suggests that Tennessee's 2012 opener versus North Carolina State Friday night in The Georgia Dome could set a tone for the rest of the season.
Consider these past Vol openers against decent competition over the past 25 years:
Tennessee beat a 16th-ranked Iowa team 23-22 to open the 1987 season and went on to finish 10-2-1.
Tennessee lost to a 12th-ranked Georgia team 17-28 to open the 1988 season and went on to finish 5-6.
Tennessee tied a fifth-ranked Colorado team 31-31 to open the 1990 season and went on to finish 9-2-2.
Tennessee lost to a 14th-ranked UCLA team 23-25 to open the 1994 season and went on to finish 8-4.
Tennessee beat a 17th-ranked Syracuse team 34-33 to open the 1998 season and went on to finish 13-0.
Tennessee beat a 22nd-ranked Southern Miss team 19-16 to open the 2000 season and went on to finish 8-4.
Tennessee beat a solid but unranked Syracuse team 33-9 to open the 2001 season and went on to finish 11-2.
Tennessee beat a ninth-ranked California team 35-18 to open the 2006 season and went on to finish 9-4.
Tennessee lost to a 12th-ranked Cal team 31-45 in the 2007 opener and went on to finish 10-4.
Tennessee lost to a decent UCLA team 24-27 in the 2008 opener and went on to finish 5-7.
Tennessee's record when it defeated or tied its opening foe in the seasons above was 60-14-3, a 79.9 winning percentage. The Big Orange record when it lost to its opening foe in the seasons above was 28-21-0, a 57.1 success rate.
The obvious question: Can North Carolina State be a springboard game for Tennessee?
"Absolutely," senior wideout Zach Rogers said. "We need to win a big game for our confidence sake, for everybody's sake. That would start the season off very well, and I think we've got the team to do it."
Junior cornerback Nyshier Oliver agrees that beating North Carolina State could provide a huge boost for the Vols.
"Every opener is a big game," he said. "The fact it's the Chick fil-A Classic and it's in The Georgia Dome, it'll be big for the University of Tennessee as a whole and the state of Tennessee as a whole."
The chance to beat a quality opponent on national TV is gravy.
"It would definitely boost team morale," Oliver said. "Beating an ACC school would get the fans rowdy and would definitely get Tennessee ready to go through the rest of the season."
Junior defensive tackle Maurice Couch believes beating a quality Wolfpack squad would not only boost Tennessee's morale but also its national perception.
"It would definitely help us," he said. "It would give our team some confidence. Right now everybody's overlooking us, saying we won't do nothing this year. We play for each other, so this game will prove to people that they're wrong."
Junior tight end Greg King says the Vols need to play well and win the opener to justify the hard work they put in the past few months.
"We're going to look at it and say, 'It paid off.' All the stuff that we did — the hard work, the conditioning, the time we put in and all of the schematic stuff," King said. "We're just going to look at each other and say, 'That's the first one. Now let's tackle these next 11 or 12.'"