Like for our Vols, it was a rough season for our pickers, with only Incipient hitting ten games straight up and only Will eclipsing .500 against the spread. Last time out, we saw Vanderbilt overcome a 34-24 third quarter deficit, finishing with 21 straight to win 45-34. This was the first time the Commodores had won two games against the same Vols coach since General Neyland was on the sidelines (although the General can be forgiven—he went 16-3-2 against the ‘Dores, and all three of his losses were spaced at least a decade apart). Closest to the Pin goes to Incipient, whose 35-31 predication was the only one that had Vanderbilt coming out on top. Now, we head back to Nashville for the Music City Bowl against ‘90s foe Nebraska. Will the Vols come out firing, or will we see a no-Sugar Bowl hangover? To the picks!
Incipient (10-2 straight up, 6-6 against the spread): On paper, Tennessee was much better than Nebraska going into this season. But then the Vols made a habit of sleepwalking through the first half, had full games where the offense completely disappeared, and suffered an incredible spate of injuries on defense. That's led to this game, where two storied programs, neither ranked in the top 20, face off in a December bowl game in Nashville. And as with most December bowls featuring teams you've heard of, I'll take the team that was 6-7 last season over the one that thought they were going to the Sugar Bowl. Guys like Josh Dobbs, Jauan Jennings, and Derek Barnett have enough pride that the Vols shouldn't roll over Taxslayer Iowa-style, but it's hard to see Tennessee bringing their "A" game to this one. And with a defense that's struggled to stop the dregs of the SEC, a "B" or "C" performance won't be enough to get the job done. Nebraska 38 Tennessee 27
Will (8-4 straight up, 8-4 against the spread): I don't think Tennessee is losing to Ryker Fyfe, but I didn't think Tennessee was losing to Jake Bentley or giving up 12.2 (!) yards per attempt to Kyle Shurmur either. We haven't been presented with this scenario in a while, but historically the Vols have had both their hits (1996 Northwestern, 2001 Michigan) and their misses (1999 Nebraska, 2006 Penn State) in bowls when the regular season closed with significant disappointment. But overshadowed in the midst of all the necessary conversation on the defense is just how impressive the Vol offense has been. In November only three teams averaged 8+ yards per play: Oklahoma State (8.49), Colorado State (8.51), and Tennessee (8.96). Throw in the Texas A&M performance and you've got a really compelling case for Mike DeBord's unit as one of the best in college football when they weren't...burdened?...by Jalen Hurd. The defense essentially demanded perfection from the offense down the stretch. So what's a reasonable expectation of improvement for the defense? Let's go with that. Tennessee 37 Nebraska 31
Joel (9-3 straight up, 5-7 against the spread): Tennessee 42 Nebraska 38
Chris (7-5 straight up, 4-8 against the spread): Only one of these teams had a "has the head coach lost the room?" piece come out since the end of the season, so that's good! Honestly, the only thing that seems to make sense is Nebraska covering, although this game seems even more Bowl Season Is Dumb than others. Failing that, I'm gonna peak behind the "what's the worst possible outcome?" door and hey look what I found: Nebraska 41 Tennessee 17
Hunter (8-4 straight up, 4-8 against the spread): Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,
Working to predict the bowl game football score --
The Husker's injuries look sweeping, but still somehow the doubts were creeping
From the season's problems heaping, keeping us from something more.
Is there still a chance at leaping-- bringing hope back to the fore?
Could I, should I, agree with @&%ing Volundore?!
Quoth Phil Fulmer: Vols will score!
Tennessee 41 Nebraska 28
Volundore (9-3 straight up, 5-7 against the spread): Volundore: It's tough to know what to make of either team going into this game. The Vols are banged up on defense, but Nebraska is banged up on offense. Tennessee played uninspired football down the stretch while Nebraska was last seen losing 40-10 to Iowa. Both teams were ranked in the top 10 before unraveling at the end. Does either really want to be playing this game? Who knows! FEEL THE EXCITEMENT OF BOWL SEASON ON ESPN!
In the end, I think the Vols have more talent, though that is offset by a muddled coaching situation and a defense that probably still can't stop anybody. Josh Dobbs and Alvin Kamara couldn't overcome those last two things a month ago in Nashville, but I have a feeling they ride off into the sunset in totally uninspiring fashion on Friday. Tennessee 38 Nebraska 35
Justin (9-3 straight up, 4-8 against the spread): There's a lot of doom and gloom wafting through the RTT staff and who can blame them? The last time we saw the Vols they were being out-coached and out-played by a team that was just undressed by a mediocre ACC team. But ask yourself this: Do you want to bet against Joshua Dobbs in his last collegiate game? Do you want to bet against Derek Barnett playing in his hometown with a shot at catching Reggie White? What about Cam Sutton and Kamara lacing them up for the last time? The Cornhuskers could be down starting Tommy Armstrong, Jr., and even if he's in the lineup then the hobbled Vols defense will face a hobbled running quarterback who barely completes half of his throws. Say what you will about Butch - and there's still much to say - but he'll have his team ready for this game. Tennessee 38 Nebraska 20
Trey (8-4 straight up, 4-8 against the spread): So I'll admit I've sold the farm and taken out a mortgage in Bitterresignationsburg with this staff. But I'll also admit it's not an enormous stretch to reach less fatalistic conclusions from the same material. The injuries this year were genuinely devastating, and it's certainly still possible that Jones and Shoop are still learning and growing into their roles. With another shellacking of a physically outmatched B1G team on Friday (which this team is certainly capable of!), a couple of major recruiting victories over the next few weeks, and some judicious staff reshuffling, and we're looking a far less morbid 2017. I don't really think those things are going to happen, but, hey, none of that is wildly farfetched, either.
Every coach's most important game may or may not actually be "the next one," but the stakes here genuinely are high, or as high as they can be at this season's Nobody Wants To Be Here Bowl. A dominating performance is the necessary first step for Butch if he wants to regain the narrative. A half-hearted (or worse) loss will almost certainly start an inescapable eight-month death spiral of recrimination and negativity. So: a sloppy, mildly unsatisfying win it is, then. Tennessee 42 Nebraska 34
Rocky Top Talk Staff Average (9-3 straight up, 4-8 against the spread): Tennessee 35 Nebraska 33
Vegas: Tennessee -6.5. Over/under 58. Tennessee 32 Nebraska 26