Tennessee at South Carolina Betting Odds & Pick: Can Vols Pass Tough Early Road Test? (Saturday, Sept. 25)
Bryan Lynn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Jarrett Guarantano
Tennessee at South Carolina Odds
|South Carolina Odds||+3.5|
|Time||Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET|
Odds as of Friday morning and via DraftKings.
The Vols and Gamecocks will meet in Columbia on Saturday in an important SEC opener for both coaches.
Let’s take a closer look at this conference clash — the only SEC matchup of the weekend with a spread under a touchdown.
South Carolina Has Unique Continuity on Offense
The pressure is on Will Muschamp this year after a very disappointing few years at South Carolina. A win over Tennessee in the home opener will be a step in the right direction for 2020. A loss and things could get ugly. For what it’s worth, Muschamp owns a 7-1 record against Tennessee as a head coach between Florida and South Carolina.
In the offseason, Muschamp brought in Mike Bobo as the new offensive coordinator. Bobo should fix some of the recent downfield passing woes. And I think they now have the right man under center in Collin Hill — a transfer from Colorado State, who has had three ACL surgeries in his college career. Hill won the job over incumbent starter Ryan Hilinski.
I’m looking to stay away from teams with new coordinators, schemes and quarterbacks early in the season but South Carolina is a unique case. Hill started for Bobo for two years at Colorado State.
While I think Hill was the right choice at quarterback, there are other question marks on this offense. The Gamecocks lost their top two backs (Rico Dowdle and Tavian Feaster) and wide receiver Bryan Edwards, who now plays for the Vegas Raiders. Star running back recruit Marshawn Lloyd also tore his ACL over the summer, which means someone else will need to emerge as the new feature back.
Edwards’ departure also leaves Shi Smith and a bunch of inexperienced options at receiver against a very experienced Tennessee secondary, led by cornerback Bryce Thompson.
Bobo is known for his downfield passing attack but a lot of his quotes have focused on how little South Carolina ran the ball last year, so I think we’ll see a more run-heavy offensive attack early on in the season to set up a few deep shots.
An interesting side note is that Bobo and Jeremy Pruitt are very familiar with each other’s schemes. The two friends spent time together on the Georgia staff and even lived in the same neighborhood in Athens.
The SC defense has potential with linebacker Ernest Jones and cornerback Israel Mukuamu. The key will be trying to replace star defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw (now a 49er), who demanded so much attention on the interior. Muschamp hopes his two 5-stars Zacch Pickens and Jordan Burch can help fill the void.
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Tennessee Might Start Slow
After a disastrous season opening loss, Tennessee finished on a six-game winning streak in 2019, which gave some hope for Vols fans coming into 2020. Harrison Bailey is the future at quarterback, but it’s still Jarrett Guarantano’s show this year.
However, the real stars of the offense are up front. The Vols have the potential to feature one of the best offensive lines in all of college football when at full strength with a group of five blue chippers all over 300 pounds, led by guard Trey Smith.
However, that might not be the case on Saturday as prized Georgia transfer and future pro Cade Mays has still not received clearance from the SEC. Also, star left tackle Wanya Morris is listed as “OR” on the depth chart after recently being quarantined.
Tennessee’s offense won’t have the services of starting tight end Austin Pope (important in run game) and lost three of its top four receivers from last season, notably Marquez Calloway (now a New Orleans Saint) and Jauan Jennings (fifth all-time leading receiver in program history).
The lone returning starter Josh Palmer will have to step up and Tennessee hopes USC transfer Velus Jones can step in and provide a spark on the outside and possibly in the return game. It might take time for the passing game to find itself, so I’m not expecting much on Saturday.
This will still be a heavy, rush-based, grind it out attack that features Eric Gray running behind a massive offensive line.
Star linebacker Henry To’o To’o leads a defense that has plenty of potential. It’s a unit that really improved at the end of last season, holding each of its final six opponents under 24 points. The competition certainly helped, but the improvement was visible.
It’s worth noting that Tennessee has dealt with COVID complications throughout camp with 40-plus players missing from some practices. There is definitely cause for concern about how Tennessee will look early on.
How I’m Betting Tennessee-South Carolina
I make this closer to Tennessee -1, so I’ll gladly take over a field goal in a game where points should come at a premium, making the points even more valuable on the home dog. I also like the under (43 or better) in a game where I think both defenses have the edge.
I’ll ultimately trust the quarterback I think will make more plays in Collin Hill. I’m just not a fan of the maddeningly inconsistent Guarantano. Tennessee also may be completely out of synch early on after all of the COVID camp interruptions.
The Bets: South Carolina +3.5, Under 43 or better