College football is entering Week 9 and if you didn’t know by now, there’s only one place to get your betting picks and tips — the SEC Wizard!
Kentucky enters this game looking to restore some pride in the program after a 38-point loss at Mississippi State burst the bubble that was the Wildcats’ 2017 season. Beating Tennessee to become bowl eligible before the end of October would do just that.
Meanwhile, despite the assumption otherwise, Butch Jones may still have a chance to save his job, according to SEC Country sources. Now, it’s just that — a chance. And it likely would require winning out against Kentucky, Southern Miss, Missouri, LSU and Vanderbilt, which seems highly unlikely.
College football betting picks, Tennessee-Kentucky
That would allow Tennessee to finish the season at 8-4, 4-4 in the SEC. But that pipe dream could end as early as Saturday, in which case Jones may find himself unemployed by the end of the weekend.
Regardless, look for at least one more entertaining, schadenfreude type press conference from Jones after this one.
How Tennessee can win: End the streak early. Tennessee has gone 14 quarters without scoring a touchdown on offense, and the Vols would do well to end that as early in the game as possible. The foul mood hovering over this team could snowball and cause the players and coaches to press even more than they already are if the offense remains in park in the first half.
The Vols need to run the ball, even without John Kelly, and give Jarrett Guarantano some easy, high-percentage throws (like screens to Marquez Callaway). If a tired, beat-up defense has to stay on the field for too long, the outcome won’t be good.
How Kentucky can win: Don’t respect Guarantano’s arm. Put as many people in the box as possible, double-cover Callaway and dare Tennessee to throw deep. Kentucky wants to force UT into third-and-long on defense, play as much of the game as possible in plus field position and allow the pressure on the Vols to build.
Kentucky’s best offense is balanced and efficient. They don’t have a dominant player. UK just needs to take care of the ball and outgain Tennessee, which shouldn’t be all that difficult.
Here are a few additional nuggets:
- Kentucky is 8-3 straight up in its last 11 home games, but Tennessee is 10-1 in its last 11 games in Lexington.
- “Under” bets are a combined 11-4 in Tennessee and Kentucky games this season.
- Tennessee would fall to 0-5 in the SEC with a loss, which would also drop Butch Jones to 14-23 in SEC games.
- Tennessee’s season win total at most shops was 7.5, with heavy juice. A loss here would guarantee a cash for anyone who bet “under” on that, and could pay out at +100 or better in some instances.
Tennessee covered as a 6.5-point underdog at Florida — barely (the Vols lost 26-20). Butch Jones’ team is 0-6 against the spread the rest of the year. The Vols did get within 1 point of the number last week at Alabama, barely covering in the biggest underdog spot in school history (37 points).
Defensive coordinator Bob Shoop has been put in an impossible spot this year given the injuries (see below) and the offensive ineptitude. That group hasn’t been as bad as the numbers indicate. Tennessee’s offense hasn’t scored a touchdown against an SEC team since Sept. 16 against Florida.
- RB John Kelly is suspended for Saturday’s game at Kentucky due to a marijuana citation. Kelly is Tennessee’s No. 1 playmaker and probably the most important player on the entire roster, so losing him is a huge blow. LB Will Ignont was cited and suspended as well.
- DE Darrell Taylor, who made the game-winning play in a 42-41 overtime win against Georgia Tech, remained suspended as of Wednesday. It was unclear whether Butch Jones would lift the suspension before Saturday’s kickoff.
- DB/KR Evan Berry (undisclosed) was “day-to-day” as of Wednesday. DB Baylen Buchanan is out due to injury, while DL Austin Smith is expected to play.
- K Aaron Medley has returned to practice, but freshman Brent Cimaglia is expected to remain the primary placekicker.
- OL Jashon Robertson (leg) is probable vs. Kentucky. DB Justin Martin and WR Latrell Williams are questionable.
- Players who are out for the season include OL Jack Jones, LB Cortez McDowell, DB Todd Kelly Jr., WR Jauan Jennings, LB Darrin Kirkland Jr. and OL Chance Hall.
Tennessee traveled to Tuscaloosa last week. Teams seem to get mentally and physically annihilated against the Tide, often producing lasting impact. (See: Florida State, Vanderbilt.)
Southern Miss is next, but Tennessee’s players and coaches shouldn’t have trouble taking things one game at a time right now.
Jones likes to remind us that under his watch, Tennessee won 9 games in back-to-back seasons in ’15 and ’16 for the first time since Phillip Fulmer in ’06 and ’07. Considering the state of the program that he inherited from Derek Dooley in ’13, that’s an accomplishment. He’s replenished the roster to an extent, and he’s dealt with more than his fair share of injuries.
But Jones’ awful in-game coaching in big games and close games, dovetailed with his over-sensitivity with the media and funny/embarrassing cliches, have put him in danger of losing his job. And while Jones has restored some semblance of respectability, he hasn’t been able to lead Tennessee to a division title, even during the dark ages of the SEC East. And now his upward trajectory appears to have stalled.
A loss at Kentucky on Saturday and he may not coach another game in Knoxville.
He’s started 2 games, and despite some early hope against South Carolina, has yet to inject any meaningful life into the offense. (Which, by the way, has gone 14 quarters without a touchdown.)
More concerning, he’s been sacked 14 times, hit 12 times and hurried 15 times on just 86 drop-backs, according to CFB Film Room.
Those looking to fade a very lucky Kentucky team may have gotten just one opportunity. At 5-1, Kentucky opened as a 10-point underdog at Mississippi State. The books eventually adjusted to Mississippi State minus-14 by kickoff, and the Bulldogs won by 38. Bookmakers appear to have downgraded UK already.
Southern Miss, Eastern Kentucky, Eastern Michigan and Missouri all covered against this Kentucky team as road underdogs, the same spot Tennessee finds itself in Saturday. But none of them were able to win, despite competitive games.
Kentucky’s F+/- ranking of 73rd is telling. There are 130 teams in FBS, so the Wildcats are just below average overall, and closer to the bottom among Power 5 teams despite being on the verge of bowl eligibility.
- LT Landon Young, maybe the best offensive lineman on this team, suffered an injury on an awkward hit vs. Mississippi State. But he returned to practice this week and should play against Tennessee.
- WR Dorian Baker (ankle) has missed the entire season after catching 55 passes in ’16. OT Cole Mosier (ACL) suffered a season-ending injury before the season as well.
Kentucky lost a 45-7 game at Mississippi State last week despite having 2 weeks to prepare. Ole Miss comes to Lexington next week. I’m intrigued to see how the Wildcats react emotionally. Prior to the beatdown in Starkville, this was a 5-1 team, and some optimistic fans were talking up UK as a true East Division contender.
Stoops is one of the all-time best recruiters to ever come through Lexington’s football program. He has Kentucky poised for back-to-back bowl appearances for just the fifth time in school history, and the first since five consecutive postseason appearances from 2006 to 2010.
But as a “defensive guy,” Stoops’ UK teams haven’t done well on that side of the ball. And the offense, seemingly built as a fast-paced, spread group, became a power running team almost by accident in 2016 and now doesn’t seem to have any identity at all.
I think of Johnson as a very poor man’s Jalen Hurts. He can scramble a bit. His numbers are pedestrian. But he takes pretty good care of the football and he’s more efficient than most people realize.
With more than 500 career passes, he’s got a big experience edge over Guarantano (58 college pass attempts).
THE WIZARD’S PREDICTION
Score: Kentucky 24, Tennessee 21
I got caught with my pants down on this one. Tennessee opened as a 6-point underdog. Given the way Mississippi State ran all over Kentucky last week, and the fact that Tennessee and Butch Jones enter as a desperate, wounded animal, I figured John Kelly would slice up the Wildcats defense.
Then Kelly got suspended due to being cited for marijuana possession.
If I had not wagered on this game Sunday night soon after it opened, I’d stay far away from this one.