BRISTOL — Although the game is more than two years away, the University of Tennessee and Virginia Tech football programs are already reaping the benefits of the “Battle at Bristol.”
It was announced Sunday that Food City will come on board to sponsor the game at Bristol Motor Speedway scheduled for Sept. 10, 2016.
Tennessee coach Butch Jones and Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer, who served as co-grand marshals for Sunday’s Food City 500, have seen the future contest as a great recruiting tool since it was announced with great fanfare in October.
“The recruits are excited. It shows the foresight, the vision of the University of Tennessee has, led by (athletic director) Dave Hart,” Vols coach Butch Jones said. “The ability to sell you’re going to be a part of world history, it’s very, very special. Where we’re playing it just adds to it as well. It’s going to be a great venue.”
The video produced for the game announcement is one of the first things Beamer shows to recruits. There are also reminders to the Hokies’ current group of players.
“We’ve got two pictures (of an artist’s rendering of the game) as you enter our football facility,” Beamer said. “So they walk by it every day. There is no question, being a part of history, being part of something … the largest crowd ever to watch a football game, that’s a once in a lifetime deal. I think they’re very excited.”
It is expected to draw in an estimated 150,000 fans which would easily set an all-time attendance record for a football game. The current NCAA record is 115,109 set last September at Michigan Stadium to see the host Wolverines beat Notre Dame. The unofficial record is 123,000 for a 1927 game at Chicago’s Soldier Game when Notre Dame defeated Southern Cal.
While the Vols play in front of a weekly crowd over 100,000, Jones said it’s a different ballgame at Bristol with the anticipation and the chance to break a world record.
Tennessee had already sold an allotment of 40,000 tickets by the end of January, which came as no surprise to Jones.
“That’s another illustration of the excitement and the passion that surrounds Tennessee football,” he said. “I say we have the best fanbase in America and that’s another illustration of that. Our fanbase has provided so much positive energy moving this program forward. You feel that throughout the state of Tennessee and throughout the country.”
The Vols hope to add to the momentum of a strong recruiting class, ranked in the top five of the country by all of the major services. Jones has been able to do well courting local products, adding that Brendan Downs, Mack Crowder, Malik Foreman and Devaun Swafford are all expected to contribute heavily this season.
“We continue to be a work in progress, but we have a lot of positive energy going on at Tennessee,” Jones said. “We’ve been through five practices for spring football. There is a lot of positive momentum, but opportunities like this to come to Bristol Motor Speedway and talk about the “Battle at Bristol,” it’s exciting.”
Both teams do have question marks, however, particularly at the quarterback position. They also have other challenges.
Tennessee is coming off a 5-7 season, its fourth straight losing campaign. Virginia Tech finished 8-5 last season, but was blown out by UCLA in the Sun Bowl.
On the flip side, there are more positives to build on.
Jones, who is starting his second season, was able to lead Tennessee to a 23-21 win over then No. 11 South Carolina, the Vols’ first win over a ranked opponent since 2009.
Beamer, entering his 27th season at Virginia Tech, is the nation’s longest tenured coach. His 224 career wins (209 with the Hokies) rank him as the nation’s winningest active coach and under him the Hokies have 21 consecutive winning seasons.
Fantastic is the one word which sums up his feelings about the Battle at Bristol, which is being touted as bigger than any bowl game or even a national championship game.
“I think it’s going to be a fantastic game in a fantastic setting,” Beamer said. “To be part of history, this area is going to benefit from it. People for a long time wanted us to schedule a game with Tennessee and we’re playing right here in the middle. It’s a fantastic situation.”comments powered by Disqus