Tennessee’s best and worse scenarios, opening line against N.C. State and other notes and quotes

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — The first day of class is Wednesday, which means the campus is crowded with cars and pedestrians, and the football fields will be empty for the next 48 hours or so.

I’m budgeting an extra five minutes or so to get anywhere and hunkering down in the office to work on our football preview section.

In the meantime, let’s get to the 11….

1. The official release of the depth chart will come Thursday, but I’d expect plenty of asterisks, a lot of co-starters, a lot of “ORs” and many potential changes as the season unfolds.

As Dooley said last night, “We don’t really know who’s going to be productive on game day. All we can do is suspect. We’ll set a starting lineup based on what we suspect, but ultimately they have to go out there and prove it.”

2. I’ve been a guest on two Alabama radio stations recently to talk about Tennessee football. I generally tell them that the Vols appear very talented on paper, but are vulnerable to injuries. I haven’t made an official win prediction, but I always say that if 7.5 is the over-under, I’d lean toward over.

3. So if that’s a good midpoint, what’s the best- and worse-case scenario for the Vols this season? Daniel Lewis tackled that question here. Only two games would qualify as stunning upsets — Georgia and Alabama — and is the gap really so wide that a win in either of those games is unthinkable? From the glass-half-empty perspective, there are plenty of possible losses on the slate, too. Florida will be a tough game. Mississippi State at Starkville won’t be a pushover. Nor will Missouri. And even the opener against North Carolina State is far from a gimme.

4. Here are Phil Steele’s somewhat inscrutable power rankings. I’ve always liked Phil Steele (full disclosure: He’s a Clevelander), even if his magazine’s design made my eyes hurt. He sees a pretty large gulf between LSU and Alabama and the rest of the league.

5. Former Vols tight end Reggie Harper died Sunday at the age of 53. Harper is the career record-holder for catches and receiving yards by a tight end. He played from 1977-1980.

6. Freshman running back Quenshaun Watson probably won’t have to play a major role this year unless injuries strike, but we’ve heard nothing but good things about his performance in camp.

“Q. is doing real well,” said coach Derek Dooley. “He’s a little light and this is all new to him. It probably would have helped him if he had been here in the first session and had another five weeks training, but he’s got a good skill set. He’s fast, elusive and instinctive. He’s made big plays in both scrimmages.”

7. Watson’s importance as a reserve back grew after the departure of fellow freshman back Davante Bourque.

Who knows what happened behind the scenes, but give Dooley credit for taking the high road publicly. Bourque’s father chose to napalm some bridges on the way out.

8. Watson is listed at 5-foot-9 and 175 pounds, so he probably has some weight to add in the next year or so. And he might eventually have to prove he can be more than a scat-back.

Asked whether Watson would get most of his work outside the tackles, Dooley replied, “He’s not a big guy, if that’s what you mean.

“On third-and-1, we’re probably not going to run the iso with Que. I think that is a fair assessment. But it’s hard to avoid contact in this game.”

9. If you want an auto-stream of N.C. State news leading up to next week’s game, try @WolfpackWire. I’m also following @jwgiglio, @PackPride and @DavidCMorrison.

10. I found an early line for the game that says Tennessee by 3 ½. That’s in the neighborhood of what I expected, although I was thinking more along the lines of 5 or 6.

11. My first three weeks on the job have been great, and I appreciate everyone who has read my stories and blogs, followed me on Twitter and sent me e-mails. A live chat is in the works. If it doesn’t happen this week, we’ll definitely do one next week. Follow me on Twitter to make sure you don’t miss it.