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Vols look to start winning as important favorites

Tennessee hasn't had a lot of practice playing important games as favorites lately, but they start that journey this weekend against the Kentucky Wildcats.

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the role of important favorite, Vols fans. The oddsmakers currently have Tennessee as an 8.5-point favorite over Kentucky, and Football Study Hall says that Kentucky's chance of beating Tennessee is only 12.9%. This preview, too, is going to pick the Vols and suggest that the final margin over victory should be closer to 14 than 7.

Perhaps all of that's an overreaction to the Vols seemingly finding answers to all of their last questions in the form of Josh Dobbs at quarterback. With Dobbs at the helm in the last game, the team put up 645 total yards (344 on the ground and 301 through the air) and 45 points (42 in regulation). Sure, that's against South Carolina's hapless defense, but they also put up 383 total yards (181 rushing and 202 passing) and 20 points against one of the nation's best defenses in Alabama. When your offense can score 14 points when they need them the most in just a couple of minutes of game time, well, you start to believe that they're going to score every time they get the ball.

On the other side of the coin, Kentucky may have gotten off to a great start this season, but that's all gone off the rails in the last four games against LSU, Mississippi State, Missouri, and Georgia. They've lost those games by an average of 23.5 points, and they'll have played seven consecutive weeks before they roll into a Neyland Stadium filled with fresh hope Saturday evening.

So yeah, Tennessee's the favorite to win this game and should be. But this team and this program has been wearing the underdog suit for a long time, and winning as a favorite in important games is a different skill than beating cupcakes or rivals with a chip on your shoulder. Can Butch, his staff, and his players navigate the transition? Honestly, they still have so much to prove that it's hard to imagine them feeling the least bit entitled, but this is a game of inches and degrees, and I'm curious to see what impact, if any, standing ovations in class have on all of the little things that add up to the final result.

The Vols should be able to run the ball on these guys. The defense should be able to hold the Wildcats to a final tally of yards and points that leave room for the newly potent offense to outscore them. The stadium should be rocking with visions of a holiday bowl game and a 2015 in which the team can wipe the whiteboard clean and write on it whatever the heck they want this time.

Tennessee should win Saturday, but they have to make it so. So let's make it so. Go Vols.

Tennessee Logo Kentucky Logo Comps Result against Comps Guess
Closest Lower Closest Higher Closest Lower Closest Higher
Team Team Team Team
Rank Value Rank Value Rank Value Rank Value
Tennessee rushing offense vs. Kentucky rushing defense 99 131.4 97 200.2 South Carolina Ark. St. South Carolina Ark. St. 300
112 223.4 64 162.3 344 168
Tennessee passing offense vs. Kentucky passing defense 61 235.7 19 190.3 Ark. St. GA/AL Ark. St. GA/AL 240
40 207.9 16/15 186/185.4 247 284/202
Tennessee rushing defense vs. Kentucky rushing offense 77 172 63 160.3 Utah St. Ole Miss Utah St. Ole Miss 180
76 154.8 53 174.4 100 180
Tennessee passing defense vs. Kentucky passing offense 32 203 54 243 Ark. St. Oklahoma Ark. St. Oklahoma 250
57 241.1 48 250.1 190 308
Tennessee scoring offense vs. Kentucky scoring defense 81 26.2 76 28.1 South Carolina Oklahoma South Carolina Oklahoma 34
104 34.1 48 24.7 42 10
Tennessee scoring defense vs. Kentucky scoring offense 51 25 67 29.4 Utah St. Florida Utah St. Florida 20
78 26.8 60 30.5 7 10