Tennessee Volunteers vs. Virginia Tech Hokies, Saturday Sept. 10, 8 p.m. ET
This game didn't set up as the most thrilling in history before the season started, and the prospects for it have dimmed since both teams got off to underwhelming starts. None of that matters, though. This game is all about one thing - the setting. Bristol Motor Speedway seats 153,000 for NASCAR events, and organizers are hoping about that many will attend this game, which will take place on artificial turf installed in the infield. The crowd will shatter the current attendance record of more than 115,000 when Notre Dame played at Michigan in 2013. It's an epic spectacle, and it's one that has been in the works for many years.
The two schools are a perfect choice - both are just over 100 miles from Bristol, Tennessee. It's going to be worth seeing - whether or not the game turns into a great affair.
Interesting trivia note - this isn't the first football game played at Bristol. In 1961 the Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins played a preseason game here. You can be sure that the sponsor involvement will be more aggressive now than it was then.
Tennessee at Virginia Tech Betting Storylines
Tennessee tried their very hardest to lose their opener to Appalachian State, but they ultimately couldn't quite do it. They needed overtime to escape that one 20-13, and even the overtime score was far from pretty. The team made far too many mistakes through the game - capped by a fumble into the endzone that was luckily recovered for the overtime winning touchdown. The offense was largely ineffective, and it was saved by a solid running game from Jalen Hurd. They just did not look anything like the team that was ranked in the Top 10 and thought by many to be a viable playoff contender. It was only one week, of course, and they still got the win, but it was far from an inspiring effort. Perhaps most concerning was that the offense returned nine starters and was playing against a defense that is talented but shouldn't have been able to match Tennessee's size and speed. It's a lot tougher to be positive about this team now than just a week ago - and I was far from positive about them then.
Virginia Tech won 36-13, so on the surface that's much more impressive. The problem, though, is that the game was against Liberty, an FCS team coming off a 6-5 season. Winning by just 23 and not coming close to covering the spread is far from ideal against an opponent like that. Like the Volunteers, the Hokies made far too many mistakes in the game. They fumbled the ball four times. QB Jerod Evans, a juco transfer, was responsible for two of those fumbles, but he also threw four touchdown passes in his FBS debut, so it wasn't a totally lost game. For the Hokies, though, the less-than-perfect performance was both more expected and more acceptable than that from Tennessee.
This is the first year of the Justin Fuente coaching era, and he has a major task of transformation and reinvention after Frank Beamer had been in charge for so long. Fuente can coach, but transition takes time. On the plus side, Liberty's offense was almost non-existent even with the consistent gifts of the fumbles, so the defense had a very good day.
Tennessee at Virginia Tech Odds and Betting Trends
The game opened with Tennessee favored by 10 points. The bets have been split nearly evenly between the two sides, yet the line has since moved up to 11.5 points. That suggests that early sharp action was on the Volunteers. The total opened at 52 and has moved up fairly quickly to 54.5.
These two teams haven't met since 2009 when Virginia Tech won by 23 as 4.5-point favorites. The Volunteers are 7-3 ATS in their last 10 games following an ATS loss, so they could bounce back well here. They are, however, just 1-4 ATS in their last five against the ACC. They have, though, covered their last four spreads both against teams with winning records and in games played at neutral sites. The Hokies are an ugly 7-17-2 ATS in their last 26 nonconference games and 2-6-1 ATS in their last nine neutral-site games. That was all in the Beamer era, though.
Free College Football Picks: Tennessee at Virginia Tech Predictions and Picks
I don't really like where either team is. The Vols are clearly the better team overall. I'm looking to exploit the big line here, though. I don't trust Tennessee's offense, and the Hokies have a decent defense. Virginia Tech also did some good things on offense and could do it again - especially if they can protect the ball better. I don't necessarily expect the Hokies to win, but they could keep it close. I'll take the points.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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