Two teams coming off season-opening wins and covers meet when the Vols of the SEC host the Red Wolves of the Sun Belt Saturday afternoon at Rocky Top (noon ET). Here's our take on this match-up, with our free NCAAF pick, offered up for our readers' consideration.
Tennessee opened its second season under head coach Butch Jones with a 38-7 victory over Utah State last Sunday, easily covering the spread as four-point favorites. The Vols scored touchdowns on their first two possessions, and led 31-0 before the Aggies hit the board early in the fourth quarter.
Tennessee out-gained Utah State 383-244 and won the turnover battle 3-0, but struggled to run the ball, garnering just 110 yards on 39 carries.
The Volunteers returned just 10 starters this season, three less than last year. Five starters are back on offense, including senior QB Justin Worley and last year's top two receivers, but none along the offensive line. And five starters are back on defense, including the entire secondary. But that means the Vols have had to replace the entire starting front four.
On the dogged side of this match-up Arkansas State opened its second season under head coach Blake Anderson with a 37-10 victory over FCS Montana State, covering as 12-point favorites. The Red Wolves only led 13-10 midway through the third quarter but scored 24 points over the next 11 minutes to pull away for the win and the cash.
A-State out-gained the Bobcats 558-228, out-rushed 'em 294-86 and got a nice performance from junior quarterback Fredi Knighten, who hit on 19 of 29 passes for 219 yards and ran for 104 more in his first career start.
Arkansas State returned just 11 starters this season, same as last year. Just three starters are back on offense, after the losses of QB Adam Kennedy and four along the offensive line, but eight starters are back on defense, including the entire back seven.
The Wolves averaged 29 points per game last year, while giving up 26 PPG. They might not get to 29 PPG this year, but they have a good chance to improve upon that second figure.
These two programs have met once before, a 48-27 Tennessee victory back in 2007.
Wolves-Vols Betting Trends
Arkansas State went 0-2 both SU and ATS vs. SEC teams last season, losing at West Division champion Auburn 38-9 as 10-point road dogs, and at East Division champion Missouri 41-19 as 21-point road dogs. But both those games were closer than the final scores might indicate.
Tennessee went 2-0 SU, 1-1 ATS against Sun Belt teams last year, beating Western Kentucky 52-20 as 12-point home favorites, and topping South Alabama 31-24 but losing ATS as 16-point chalk.
Arkansas State got some good news late this week when leading rusher Michael Gordon, who bolted for a 42-yard scoring run early last Saturday, but later left the game with a rib injury, was upgraded to probable for this Saturday.
Tennessee, on the other hand, got bad news earlier this week when it learned LT Jacob Gilliam would miss the rest of this season with a torn ACL.
Free College Football Pick
Both teams have a lot of holes to fill this season, especially along the lines of scrimmage. And in a game with a lot of question marks 17 points looks like a lot. So we'll go with Arkansas-State plus the points for our free college football pick on this one.