California, which invades Neyland Stadium Sept. 2, is not going to be your typical Game 1 foe. The Bears project to be considerably better than recent opening opponents such as Wyoming (1999 and 2002), Southern Miss (2000), Syracuse (2001), Fresno State (2003), UNLV (2004) and Alabama-Birmingham (2005).
Cal probably represents Tennessee’s toughest opening test since 1998, when a Syracuse team that featured future NFL superstars Donovan McNabb and Dwight Freeney gave a Vol team destined to win the national title fits before bowing 34-33.
In fact, the Bears just might be the strongest team on UT’s 2006 schedule. The popular website Collegefootballnews.com recently referred to Cal as “a potential monster” in an article filled with glowing praise of the Bears. What follows is an excerpt from that article:
“Last year, Cal exited the national consciousness with an early loss to UCLA on the way to a respectable 8-4 record, but 2005 was a mere transition season to this year when all the parts should come together when the program finally shows the world how good it is.
“There are few teams with more speed among the starters with an array of talents that would litter the All-America lists if it played in one of the other BCS conferences. DT Brandon Mebane, CB Daymeion Hughes and LB Desmond Bishop will be among the best in the nation at their respective positions, and RB Marshawn Lynch deserves Heisman consideration from day one.
“The quarterback situation will sort itself out with Nate Longshore ready to steady the four-man race, Lynch and Justin Forsett combine to form one of the nation's top tailback duos, and the receivers might not be the best in America, but they're in the top three when it comes to speed.
“The defense will be a sack machine with too many good ends for one team, Mebane an all-star in the middle, and one of the best linebacking corps in the nation. The slight concerns are on the offensive line and at safety, but those won't turn out to be any big deal as the season goes on.
“So now it's up to the college football world to pay attention. The opening day game at Tennessee will be a make-or-break game for national respect, but even a loss shouldn't mean anyone should dismiss this potential Pac 10 champion. Head coach Jeff Tedford has assembled a potential monster going into his fifth season and it'll be one of the nation's most fun teams week in and week out.”