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Tennessee opens as underdog against Pittsburgh

NCAA Football: Massachusetts at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

With week one in the books, our focus now turns to the Pitt Panthers. Tennessee will welcome Pittsburgh to Knoxville on Saturday for the Johnny Majors Classic, a fascinating non-conference matchup in the early season.

Tennessee is coming off of a 38-6 win over Bowling Green, while Pittsburgh handled UMass 51-7. Now the two sides set their sights on each other in what could end up being a very important game on Tennessee’s schedule.

We expected this one to be close all offseason, and Vegas apparently agrees. Oddsmakers at FanDuel have installed Pitt as a 1.5 point favorite for Saturday’s matchup, while the total is set for 52.5 points.

The Panthers returned eight starters on offense, including veteran quarterback Kenny Pickett. The senior passer enters his fourth season as the starter, giving Pitt some serious continuity on the offensive side of the ball.

Defensively, Pittsburgh is replacing a ton of production. They had five defenders selected in the 2021 NFL Draft, including both starting cornerbacks and three defensive linemen. The new group got off to a nice start on Saturday, but will face a bigger test in Knoxville.

Tennessee is looking to find their rhythm in Josh Heupel’s up-tempo spread system. After a hot start against Bowling Green, the passing game fizzled and the Volunteers were forced to lean on the rushing attack. Quarterback Joe Milton will need a better performance if Tennessee wants to win this one.

Heupel is familiar with Pitt after facing them in 2018 and 2019 at UCF. The Knights won 45-14 in 2018, but dropped the 2019 meeting 35-34.

Tennessee and Pittsburgh are scheduled to kickoff at noon ET on Saturday, September 11th. ESPN will have the coverage.