Nebraska Cornhuskers vs. Tennessee Volunteers, Friday Dec. 30, 3:30 p.m. ET
The storyline was obvious as soon as this matchup was set. Tennessee's Joshua Dobbs and Nebraska's Tommy Armstrong Jr. are both senior quarterbacks that have been the heart and soul of their respective program for four years now, and both hold several career team records. Both teams have been rebuilding through their tenures, but a win here would cap off their time perfectly.
Unfortunately, Hollywood storylines don't always turn out as they are supposed to. Armstrong suffered a hamstring injury late in the season. He came back for the regular-season finale against Iowa, but he clearly wasn't ready and it was a disaster. Now he is trying hard to get back for this game. Hamstrings are tricky, though, and as I write this on Dec. 19 he has yet to practice. The coaching staff is correctly talking about how Armstrong can't start off of this kind of layoff without at least a week of practice, so it increasingly looks like his Nebraska career has already come to an end. Now, if Armstrong does come back and secures a win then the Disney people better be ready to make the film adaptation. But don't hold your breath.
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Music City Bowl Betting Storylines
In the absence of Armstrong, fellow senior and all-name team candidate Ryker Fyfe has been getting all of the first-team snaps. His career has mostly consisted of mop up duty, with the exception of a start against Purdue last year and filling in when Armstrong was hurt early against Maryland this year. Against Purdue he threw for 407 yards and four touchdowns, but he also had four picks. In other words, he played like a guy who doesn't have the experience to match his arm. The good news for Fyfe is that he is up against a defense that, while better against the pass than the run, is pretty lousy and certainly well below average on defense in general. He should have some opportunities to make plays.
Whoever is at QB, the challenge when handicapping Nebraska is figuring out whether they will show up. They won nine games, and one of their losses was in overtime at Wisconsin as nine-point underdogs, so there was no shame in that. Based on that 10-game sample they are a solid, respectable team. But those other two games are just hideous. The week after the Wisconsin loss they lost at Ohio State 62-3. Then, with Armstrong limping, they were no match for Iowa, losing 40-10. You can't help but notice that they lost to the three best teams they played and were crushed by two of them. Are they just not very good? Or will they be able to be more prepared when they have had the extra time to get ready for this one?
Dobbs, meanwhile, is the best QB in the SEC right now. That's a bit of a backhanded compliment - that conference is not exactly the pinnacle of excellence under center. He has been particularly good over the last four games, rushing for 393 yards and passing for just short of 1,000. He also accounted for 15 touchdowns himself in the four games. They went 3-1 over the stretch. There is an asterisk here, though - they were favored by between seven and 41 points in those four games, and the loss against Vanderbilt in the finale never should have happened. So, while Nebraska is a Jekyll and Hyde program, Tennessee hasn't been exactly consistent in their dominance, either. Like Nebraska, the Vols lost to two of the best teams they faced in Alabama and Texas A&M. Unfortunately, they also lost two games - to South Carolina and Vanderbilt - that they had absolutely no business losing. So, basically, we can't trust with any certainty that either team will show up for this game. Isn't handicapping fun?
Music City Bowl Odds and Betting Trends
The game opened widely with Tennessee favored by three points. The Volunteers have drawn two-thirds of the bets in this game, so it is no surprise that the line has moved slightly - they are now favored by 3.5. Given the bet distribution, we aren't likely to see major movement - unless there are major changes on the Armstrong front perhaps. The total opened at 61 and can still be found at that price.
Nebraska is 3-0-1 ATS in their last four nonconference games. They are 9-3 ATS in their last 12 games played in December. They have gone "under" the total in eight of their last 10 games overall but "over" in four of their last five neutral-site games. Tennessee is 7-3 ATS in their last 10 against games with winning records and 5-0 ATS in their last five neutral-site games. They are, however, just 1-3-1 ATS in their last five December games.
Nebraska vs. Tennessee Music City Bowl Expert Picks & Predictions
As I said, I don't trust either team particularly. On the surface it comes down to a straightforward factor - one QB is proven while the other just isn't. I don't trust that, though. Nebraska has had the extra practice to get ready for this one, and while Dobbs is effective he isn't always a winner. I don't love this game, but if I have to pick a side it's clearly Nebraska and the points - especially with the hook in our favor now.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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