May 20, 2016
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Vice Chancellor and Director of Athletics Dave Hart announced Friday that Tennessee football’s season opener against Appalachian State has been moved ahead two days to Thursday, Sept. 1. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. ET on Thursday and will air nationally on the SEC Network. The game marks the first-ever meeting between the Vols and Mountaineers.
Hart issued the following statement regarding the game’s new date:
“The conference approached me during our recent athletics director meetings in Jacksonville about a request they had received from ESPN to move our season-opening game to Thursday night on the SEC Network. I visited with Butch Jones about it upon my return to gauge his interest prior to my conversations with appropriate campus personnel. He was very interested in making the change.
“This decision was not made in a vacuum. The collaboration that ensued included the Chancellor, Provost, our University CFO, Vice Chancellor for Student-Life and representatives from both University Development and the Tennessee Fund as well as key athletics department personnel. Challenges related to the implementation were identified and discussed at length over the course of several days. Academics was our collective primary concern. Our goal will be to do this with minimal impact to the class schedule.
“At the end of the deliberations all were supportive of moving forward with the game on Thursday night ahead of the barrage of games to follow throughout the Labor Day weekend. This change will also assist us with logistical considerations connected with the Battle at Bristol the following weekend which involves several of our staff who are assisting with that event.”
Coming off a 9-4 record and a resounding 45-6 win over 13th-ranked Northwestern in the Outback Bowl last season, Tennessee is 25-20-7 all-time in Thursday contests—the last of which came in December 2010 when UT met North Carolina in the Music City Bowl. Tennessee has not played a regular season contest on a Thursday since 1996 when the Vols defeated Ole Miss by a score of 41-3 in Memphis. Additionally, the last time a Tennessee football program opened the season on a Thursday was in 1991 when the 11th-ranked Vols traveled to Louisville and grabbed a 28-11 win over the Cardinals.
However, Thursday football in Knoxville has become a rarity since the formation of the Southeastern Conference in 1933. One must reach back into the record books to 1938 to find the last time Tennessee hosted a football game on a Thursday. That year, the Vols entertained Kentucky for a Thanksgiving Day contest, earning a 46-0 victory over the Wildcats. Even more remarkably, it’s been more than a century since the Vols played a home season opener on a Thursday. The last time that occurred was 1896 when the Volunteers began that season’s four-game campaign with a 10-6 victory over Williamsburg Institute (now University of the Cumberlands) on Thursday, Oct. 22 in Knoxville.
The Thursday, Sept. 1 meeting with Appalachian State will mark the second time in three seasons that Tennessee has opened the year with a non-Saturday game. Tennessee played host to Utah State in a Sunday season opener in 2014, earning a 38-7 victory in front of a sold-out crowd at Neyland Stadium.
The Vols, one of just four FBS programs that will enter the 2016 season on an active winning streak of six games or more, return a very talented team in 2016. Tennessee brings back a pair of All-Americans in kick returner Evan Berry and cornerback/punt returner Cameron Sutton while senior quarterback Joshua Dobbs is 14-5 over his last 19 career starts and looks to build off of a standout junior campaign. Jalen Hurd, who was the Outback Bowl MVP, is one of the top running backs in the nation and, with 2,187 career rushing yards, is just 891 yards shy of Travis Henry’s UT record of 3,078 from 1997-2000. Sutton, linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin and defensive end Derek Barnett lead a strong, veteran UT defense that has been one of the country’s most-improved over the last four years.