The staff suffered another poor performance last week, with the consensus expecting the Vols' talent advantage to overcome the lack of fire that often accompanies a noon kickoff against a struggling opponent. But, while the game was comfortable, it was not impressive, and it drops everyone's record against the spread. Everyone, that is, except Hunter, our Closest to the Pin, who predicted the game to be even closer than it was. His 31-17 prediction was just ten points off the final margin and 24 points off the total. That sounds like a lot, but it was still closer than everybody else.
This week, the Vols travel to Columbia, Missouri to take on the defensively impressive and offensively offensive Missouri Tigers in Gary Pinkel's last home game. Can Tennessee do enough to break their three year losing streak against their newest division rivals?
Incipient (7-3 straight up, 5-5 against the spread): Maybe Missouri eventually runs out of emotional energy, but playing in Gary Pinkel's last home game, the safe bet is that they're sky high for this one. And given past experience with Butch Jones' offense against Missouri's defense, it's hard to see the Vols opening up a big enough lead to deflate the home team. Tennessee has the talent to win big (see: Mississippi State, Florida), but if Jones' Vols perform to expectations against Missouri this year, it'll be the first time. The defense probably won't keep it under 10, even against a bad offense, and we've covered the offense. Expect an ugly, low-scoring game--basically what we've expected out of Missouri for two years. This time, Tennessee should have enough to win, but it won't be comfortable. Tennessee 20 Missouri 17
Hunter (6-4 straight up, 6-4 against the spread): This game will be won or lost with offensive efficiency. If the Tennessee offense can avoid negative plays on early downs and convert manageable third downs, the final score is likely to look a lot like the Mississippi State-Missouri game. If defensive coordinator Barry Odom dials up the right plays and shuts down the Tennessee run game, then the Vols will be in trouble.
Here's the thing about Butch Jones-- he's conservative, but he's far from stupid. The Vols only have two games left in the season and winning both would help significantly improve fan perception and build positive momentum for 2016. Jones and DeBord are going to throw the kitchen sink at the last two games on the schedule and that's why I think the Vols are going to win comfortably in Gary Pinkel's last home game. Tennessee 27 Missouri 15
Chris (8-2 straight up, 5-5 against the spread): Up until the last couple weeks, Missouri didn't really have an offense. Possibly coincidentally (but definitely not based on how the last few years have gone), up until the last couple weeks Tennessee didn't have a problem on offense. Since this game has pretty much come down to the stupidest possible denominator the last couple years, I have no reason to think it'll be any different. Couple that with an emotionally psyched up Missouri squad and a possibly-relieved Tennessee squad now that the hurdle of bowl eligibility has been cleared and I think we're going to see a lot of defense, some good plays on offense, more than a few boneheaded plays, and a game that comes down to the wire.
Cam Sutton. Like I was going to go two weeks without talking about his game. Tennessee 12 Missouri 6
Joel (7-3 straight up, 6-4 against the spread): Tennessee 17 Missouri 14
Will (7-3 straight up, 5-5 against the spread): I'm the guy who probably values emotion too much, which makes me want to pick Missouri outright. However, both Mississippi State's performance in Columbia and the conversation from our podcast about how you can hurt the Tiger defense make me feel better about Tennessee in this one. Dobbs' presence alone, if he can run, helps keep the Missouri defense honest. And if passes in the flat can counteract some of what the Tigers want to do with blitzing linebackers, Hurd and Kamara have 40 combined catches and, as we know, are not your average bears as running backs. I wouldn't expect us to start doing more than just enough to win against a great defense, but I would expect our own defense to hold up their end of the bargain. Any win is a good one in this environment. I think this will be a good one. Tennessee 20 Missouri 13
Rocky Top Talk Staff Average (6-4 straight up, 5-5 against the spread): Tennessee 20 Missouri 13
Vegas (for reference): Tennessee -7, over/under 42.5. Tennessee 25 Missouri 18