Ball State vs. Tennessee Odds & Picks: Bet Volunteers In a Blowout
Brett Carlsen/Getty Images. Pictured: Hendon Hooker.
- Hendon Hooker and the Tennessee Volunteers take on John Paddock and the Ball State Cardinals to open their season on Thursday.
- The Vols enter as five-touchdown favorites, and our expert sees value on them to cover that big number.
- Read on for Thomas Schlarp's full breakdown and best bet for Ball State vs. Tennessee.
Ball State vs. Tennessee Odds
|Ball State Odds|
-110o / -110u
-110o / -110u
Is Tennessee back?
In terms of the National Championship discussion, no. But in terms of being must-watch television, it's a resounding yes.
The Volunteers are poised to be an over bettor's delight, as Josh Heupel transformed a mediocre state of affairs at Rocky Top into one of the most electric offenses in all of college football in just one season.
With dark-horse Heisman candidate Hendon Hooker (+4000) manning the offense again, scoring is never going to be a problem.
But are the offensive fortunes enough to cancel out the defensive misfortunes? Or will the porous defense be the flaw in the Death Star that allows even a bottom-tier MAC team like Ball State to hang around?
It was a step-back year for Ball State in 2021, as the Cardinals finished the season 6-7, just a season removed from playing in the MAC Championship.
Last season's failures happened with a senior-laden roster, which means head coach Mike Neu has a ton of roster turnover to deal with this season.
Only 10 teams have a lower Net TARP than the Cardinals this year (-7.5), and chief among those big holes to fill is the quarterback position. John Paddock will make the first start of his career and has thrown only 34 passes in four seasons at Ball State.
Paddock will do so against one of 2021's worst passing defenses, but it will be without the help of wideout Justin Hall, who was the active FBS leader in career receptions and receiving yards at the time of Ball State's final game.
If the defensive task of stopping the potent Tennessee attack wasn't already enough, the Cardinals lost five of their six top tacklers from 2021. The veteran unit already allowed north of 28 points a game last season and generated just 1.77 sacks a game.
A more successful pass rush will be key against a Tennessee team that ranked 122nd in sacks allowed (3.39).
Let the fireworks begin.
Expect more of the same from college football's fastest offense — one that ran nearly three plays per minute.
Tennessee's ninth-ranked offense from 2021 averaged 474.4 yards and 39.3 points per game. It stands to improve even more in Heupel's second season in Knoxville.
This was Hooker's first offseason as the incumbent starting quarterback, and he now has a full season of chemistry with one of the bigger surprises of last season in Cedric Tillman. After recording just eight catches in his first three seasons with the Vols, Tillman went off to the tune of 64 catches for 1,081 yards and 12 touchdowns last year.
The receiver group also welcomes 2019 five-star recruit and former USC-turned-Texas-turned-USC transfer Bru McCoy to the program after he was just granted eligibility last week.
Leading rusher Jabari Small returns to pair with the dual threat of Hooker, but the Vols will need elevated play from four returning starters on a line that often struggled last season.
And when an offense is moving at warp speed and has the smallest average time of possession per game (24:29.54) in the nation by nearly a full 80 seconds, well, your defense is going to get cooked.
The Vols ranked 122nd in pass defense last season and now have to deal with the losses of their two best defensive backs and best defensive lineman.
There's still talent at the linebacker and safety positions, but expecting Tennessee to improve on defense (29.1 points per game) might be beyond the realm of possibilities this season.
The defensive concerns will become more apparent next week against Pitt, but they shouldn't be a problem here.
Ball State vs. Tennessee Betting Pick
The Tennessee offense is the real deal. It set single-season school records of 511 points and 67 touchdowns last season. The Vols are just one of four FBS teams that averaged 39 points per game and return its starting quarterback.
But the sportsbooks know that too, and they have baked it into the over/under accordingly, as it comes in at 68.5 as of writing.
I think Tennessee drops a 50-burger on the Cardinals, and I'm not expecting much out of Paddock in his first-ever start, especially in a hostile Neyland Stadium.
It's never a great feeling laying five touchdowns against an FBS program (I locked this in at Tennessee -31), but I'm going to trust that SEC-caliber defenders and a raucous environment are enough to hold Ball State to no more than two touchdowns.