SEC teams are often overvalued in early season non-conference games, as such could be the case with Tennessee favored by three touchdowns vs. Bowling Green Saturday.
Although it may not be apparent that a MAC team is the play vs. an SEC team, that may be exactly the case Saturday with the Bowling Green Falcons being three-touchdown underdogs while taking on the Tennessee Volunteers at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, TN at 4:00 ET in a game televised nationally on SEC Network.
The point spread at Bet365 has Bowling Green as a huge underdog for this contest with the current line at +21 with odds of -105.
Ranked for First Time in Long Time
Tennessee comes off of a 7-6 season although the Volunteers did go just 3-5 in SEC play. Still, they ended the season on a high note beating Iowa 45-28 in the TaxSlayer Bowl, and they now enter this season as a ranked team for the first time in a long time, ranked 25th. But is that preseason ranking based more on SEC hype than on reality?
Bowling Green won the MAC East Division before being the blowout college football pick loser to conference kingpin Northern Illinois in the MAC Championship Game, although the Falcons were then triumphant beating South Alabama in the Camellia Bowl in a mild upset as 3½-point underdogs. Also, Bowling Green did record a win over a Power 5 conference school last season beating Indiana of the Big Ten.
All 11 Offensive Starters Return!
Now, Bowling Green is one of the very few teams in the nation returning all 11 starters on offense, and that is from a unit that averaged 30 points and 434.7 total yards per game last season with great balance, averaging 173.3 rushing yards and 261.4 passing yards! Thus is it no wonder that the Falcons are the coaches' preseason pick to win the MAC East for the third straight year, and the win vs. Indiana shows that BGSU can at least compete with the big boys.
And we are including quarterback Matt Johnson among those 11 starters despite the fact that he started just one game last year in which he sustained his season-ending broken hip. Remember that Johnson passed for 3,467 yards and 25 touchdowns in 2013, leading the Falcons to the MAC Championship by beating then-undefeated Northern Illinois in the Championship Game.
The problem for Bowling Green last year was the defense and it now gets younger with only four starters returning. However, this is one game where the Falcons could actually generate a pass rush, which should at least allow then to make some stops necessary for a 21-point underdog to cover the point spread.
Most Sacks Allowed in SEC
You see, Tennessee allowed the most sacks in the SEC last year with 43, and for all of the optimism surrounding the Volunteers this year, we really see no improvement in the offensive line. In fact, coach Butch Jones has yet to name the starting center and right tackle, and an unsettled offensive line at this late stage of the game does seem unsettling.
Sure, the rest of the offense looks fine especially with quarterback Joshua Dobbs back for his first full season after playing so well for an injured Justin Worley down the stretch last year that Dobbs is now the unquestioned starter. Still, he will need help from the offensive line to continue that momentum from late last season.
The defense is a bit of a mixed bag especially the defensive line. The good news is that defensive ends Derek Barnett and Curt Maggitt are back to try and duplicate their double-digit sack totals from last season. The bad news though is that the experienced Bowling Green may be able to key on stopping both ends because the middle of the Tennessee line is in flux, again with neither starting defensive tackle named here just a few days before kickoff.
Trouble with the MAC?
Finally, despite the obvious superiority of the SEC in this matchup as far as conferences go, Tennessee has been a lower-rung SEC team for a while that has gone just 1-4 ATS in its last five meetings with the MAC.
Given Bowling Green returning everybody on offense including having their quarterback Johnson back from injury and Tennessee still having uncertainties in both of its lines, look for that lack of success vs. the MAC to continue with the Falcons staying within the 21 points on technically a neutral field in Nashville on Saturday.
College Football Pick: Bowling Green +21 (-105)