After a month off, Tennessee is in Nashville and ready to take on the Purdue Boilermakers in the Music City Bowl. It was a successful first season in Knoxville for Josh Heupel, who took a gutted roster and ended up going 7-5. He’s looking to cap off year one with another win and move into the offseason with some real momentum.
Purdue went 8-4 this season, putting together a couple of really nice top five wins (at the time) over Iowa and Michigan State. However, the Boilermakers won’t be at full strength thanks to a couple of key opt outs. Potential first round defensive end George Karlaftis and stud receiver David Bell will skip the game, while receiver Milton Wright and cornerback Dedrick Mackey will also miss the matchup. Starting left tackle Greg Long is said to be doubtful as well.
The Volunteers will be without right tackle Cade Mays and cornerback Alontae Taylor.
Tennessee has moved to a six point favorite as of Wednesday morning. Below, our staff will make their picks for the game.
Terry: Tennessee 41-24
When this matchup was announced, it appeared to be pretty even on paper. Purdue was no slouch in the Big Ten, hanging tough and beating a couple top-tier teams. David Bell is legit and George Karlaftis could be a top ten pick, so obviously their absence is huge. Add another three starters to that list, and things seem bleak for the Boilermakers.
On the other side, Tennessee seems energized and focused. They’re saying all the right things and have already announced that key leaders like Hendon Hooker and Cedric Tillman are going to return next season. I think the Volunteers are going to use this as a springboard into the new year. This one might get ugly.
Nick: Tennessee 48-28
Like Terry, I had this pegged as a closer game a week or so ago. But now, Purdue’s gonna be without its top two WRs, its best defensive lineman/ pass rusher, a starting cornerback and a starting offensive tackle. The Vols aren’t full-strength either, with Alontae Taylor opting to get ready for the NFL Draft and Cade Mays out with an injury, though the pieces Tennessee will be missing aren’t as numerous or integral as Purdue’s.
I figure we see another fast start from UT, but if Purdue can get some quick three-and-outs, Aidan O’Connell and the Boilermaker offense are still liable to keep this competitive for a while. It’s just hard to envision Purdue pulling this one out when so much of its production this season was tied up in Bell and Karlaftis. Most of the pregame storylines are gonna be about those two, so maybe Jeff Brohm can use that as motivation for the rest of his guys. Either way, Tennessee’s gonna be too much for Purdue.
Evan: Tennessee 37-33
Purdue is a decent team, but I’m not entirely sure they have what it takes to compete with the Vols, especially when you consider the Boilermakers will be without star defensive lineman George Karlaftis and leading receiver David Bell.
The Vols are down a couple of starters in offensive lineman Cade Mays and cornerback Alontae Taylor, which certainly helps offset the Boilermaker’s losses. And while Mays and Taylor are important in their own right, the loss of Bell and Karlaftis stings slightly more.
At the end of the day, this should be a fun matchup. You have two good quarterbacks in Henson Hooker and Aidan O’Connell battling it out and two defenses that can do just enough to ensure victory.
But at the end of the day, the Vols offense will be too much for the Boilermakers and that will be the difference in a close game.
Clint: Tennessee 45-28
Bowl season is quickly becoming wars of attrition. Not between two teams—but singular teams versus the NFL draft, coronavirus, injuries, and more. The fact that we haven’t heard more about potential issues with both rosters heading into this game is eerie. Not to put that into the universe, but I’d be interested in seeing if both teams trot out onto the field with a drastically different lineup than expected.
Here’s what we know now: Purdue will be without a handful of impact players, including a potential top-10 NFL draft pick at defensive end and the Big Ten Receiver of the Year. Both Karlaftis and Bell would make this game a coin flip. Without them, the edge clearly goes to Tennessee. The Volunteers are missing a couple of players as well, but none that will decidedly sway the game in the other direction. I expect this game to feature a lot of points scored. At this point in time, Tennessee’s offense heads into the game in better shape than the Boilermakers. Thus, I’ll go with Tennessee.