Alabama Crimson Tide at Tennessee Volunteers, Saturday Oct. 15, 3:30 p.m. ET
Tennessee managed to pull off something we basically never see last week. They went into their showdown with Texas A&M unbeaten and ranked ninth in the AP Poll. They lost the game in overtime. Somehow, though, they didn't drop a single spot in this week's poll, though, remaining ahead of unbeaten Baylor and Nebraska. That's a whole lot of respect for a program from AP voters.
Now we get to see whether they deserve that respect. They have an opportunity like they haven't had since Tee Martin was quarterback. Beat Alabama at home and you not only serve notice that the future is finally now for this perpetually-rebuilding program, but you are very well positioned to win your division and to head into the SEC Championship with a shot at a playoff spot. Lose this game, though, and you are just playing for pride - it's hard to imagine a two-loss SEC team making the postseason at this point. This is as important and interesting as games get in Week 7.
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Alabama at Tennessee Betting Storylines
There is a defensive disparity that needs to be addressed here. Alabama is playing defense at a very high level right now. Their defensive efficiency is not only at a level higher than anyone else in the country right now but higher than any team has managed in more than a decade. They are very good. Tennessee, on the other hand, has a defense that is far too familiar with the hospital. We could see as many as four or five opening-day starters on the sideline here. Cornerback Cam Sutton, the most dangerous defensive player they had, in my eyes, is out with a broken ankle. The linebacker corps has been just ransacked. Jalen Reeves-Maybin has a banged up shoulder that likely needs surgery. Darrin Kirkland has missed four games with an ankle injury and could be out here, too. Cortez McDowell left the A&M game, and his status isn't known. Backup linebacker Quart'e Sapp tore his ACL. Talk about a blow to depth at a key position.
On top of all the injures, starting defensive tackle Danny O'Brien was kicked off the team on Monday night for a violation of team rules. The defense at their best was going to have a tough day. This really makes the game a challenge.
Beyond the injuries, there are two areas of concern that jump off the page for me from a Tennessee perspective as I look at this game. First, they have underachieved on the ground this year - Jalen Hurd hasn't been good enough, and no one else has stepped up adequately to fill the gap. Now they are up against the toughest run defense in the country. That's a problem. Second, and more significantly, the Volunteers all year have been the cardiac kids. They get behind early on and then mount a furious comeback to take the win. It has worked well for them in every game except the last one - and even then they almost pulled it off. Against a team as well coached as Alabama, though, and one with a defense as sound and battle-tested as this one, it is much harder to imagine them getting hot enough late to overcome any early deficit. That means that the Vols likely need to change their style of play to do well here. They haven't done that yet - and last week was only a slightly less-important game than this one - so it is tough to have faith that they can or will do so here.
Alabama at Tennessee Odds and Betting Trends
Line movement has been predictable in this one in early action. The game opened with Alabama favored by 10.5. About 70 percent of bets have been on Alabama, and as a result the line has shifted so that the Tide is now a 13-point favorite.
The Tide are 7-2 ATS in their last nine road games and 9-4 ATS in their last 13 games overall. They are 15-7 ATS in their last 22 games played in October. They are 9-2 ATS in their last 11 against teams with a winning record. Tennessee shines against strong teams, too - they are 7-1 ATS in their last eight against teams with winning records. They are 6-2 ATS in their last eight games following a straight up loss.
Alabama at Tennessee Predictions and Picks
I was skeptical about Tennessee heading into the season, and that hasn't changed despite the success and the rankings. They are fun to watch, but they don't strike me as ultimately legitimate. Just look at their season. They needed overtime against a lousy team in their opener, and they have narrow wins three other times. They could easily be 3-3 right now with the same team if their luck quotient was just a little lower. Not ideal. The location is a challenge here, but I still think Alabama is a far better team and that Tennessee is going to find it tough to do so many things that they like to do. Alabama will win this one handily. This is a lot of points to give up in a Top-10 matchup, but as long as it stays below or at two touchdowns I'm okay with it. Alabama is the pick.
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