Don't just assume victory for SEC's Tennessee Vols at -20.5 college football odds with a total of 66 in its season opener Saturday against Bowling Green.
Scouting Bowling Green
The Falcons are two-time East Division champions in the MAC. They finished 10-4 in 2013, upsetting a ranked Northern Illinois team in the MAC title game before losing 30-27 to Pittsburgh in the Little Caesars Bowl. That success got Coach Dave Clawson hired at Wake Forest. He was replaced last year by Dino Babers and the Falcons finished 8-6. They lost to Northern Illinois 51-17 in the MAC title game but beat South Alabama 33-28 in the Camellia Bowl. It was Bowling Green's first bowl win since 2004.
BGSU is picked to win the MAC East again this season. It returns 14 starters, including 10 on offense. And the Falcons play super fast on that side of the ball, much like a Baylor or Oregon. Bowling Green had 30 touchdown drives of two minutes or fewer last season.
The star of the 2013 team was quarterback Matt Johnson. He completed 237-for-369 for 3,467 yards, 25 touchdowns and only seven picks. He was a spectacular 21-for-27 for 393 yards and five touchdowns in that upset of the No. 14 Huskies in the MAC Championship Game. However, in last year's season-opening loss to Western Kentucky, Johnson was lost for the season after throwing for 313 yards and a score. He's back healthy now and atop the depth chart, with 2014 starter James Knapke behind him. Johnson's receiving crop is strong with the top three guys back, the return of Chris Gallon, who also missed all of 2014, and the addition of Baylor transfer Robbie Rhodes. Last season Roger Lewis caught 73 balls for 1,093 yards and seven scores to become the first freshman in school history with 1,000 yards. Leading rusher Travis Greene (180 carries, 949 yards, 12 TDs) also returns.
This team is going to score points -- it just may not stop anyone. BGSU was No. 115 nationally in 2015 in allowing 493.6 yards per game. It also was in the low end by allowing 33.6 ppg. Wisconsin put up 68 on the Falcons last season. Western Kentucky had 59. Northern Illinois those 51. Indiana and UMass 42. Ball State 41.
Bowling Green is 0-2 vs. the SEC but covered the spread at sportsbooks against Mississippi State in 2013 and Florida in 2012.
Vols Are On The Rise
Pretty much everywhere you look, experts are high on the direction of the No. 25 Volunteers. It's the first time UT has been in the AP Top 25 since the week of Sept. 15, 2012, and first time to start a season in the Top 25 for the since 2008. Coach Butch Jones has done fabulous job on the recruiting trail.
The Vols finished 7-6 last year, Jones' second. It was their first winning record since the one-year campaign of Lane Kiffin in 2009. They won four of their final five in 2014, with the only defeat 29-21 to SEC East Division champion Missouri. UT thumped Iowa 45-28 in the TaxSlayer Bowl for its first bowl win since 2007, which was Phil Fulmer's second-to-last season as coach.
Few SEC teams have returning starting QBs this season, but Tennessee does in sophomore Joshua Dobbs. He didn't take over as starter until the Vols' eighth game. He completed 112-for-177 for 1,206 yards, nine touchdowns and six picks while rushing 104 times for 469 yards and eight scores. Dobbs had one of the best games in SEC history in a comeback win over South Carolina, throwing for 301 yards and two scores and rushing for 166 yards and three more scores. UT struggled running the ball last season due to an inexperienced offensive line, but Jalen Hurd, also back, still put up 899 yards and five scores on 190 carries. He also caught 35 passes for 221 yards and two scores.
The Vols have been hit hard by injuries in camp. Starting guard Marcus Jackson, the most experienced player up front, was lost for the season. So was starting safety LaDarrell McNeil, who was fourth on the team in 2014 with 76 tackles, and projected starting nickel back Rashaan Gaulden. In addition, leading returning receiver Pig Howard (54 catches, 618 yards, one TD) is suspended for this game. And out for at least a few weeks due to knee surgery is Jason Croom (21 catches, 305 yards, four scores).
The Vols are 5-0 all time against MAC schools, last beating Akron 47-26 in 2012. UT is 1-4 ATS on college football odds in those five.
College Football Pick: Might Tennessee just go through the motions here while their focus lies with thier big home game next week vs. Oklahoma? I'm taking the points & 'OVER' the total.