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Tennessee-Missouri: Staff predictions

A bounce back spot for Tennessee.

NCAA Football: Tennessee at Missouri Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Three games — that’s all that stands in the way of Tennessee and the College Football Playoff. You can listen to ESPN’s arguments, sure. The debates are endless — the rankings are a made for TV event. Odds are, everything works itself out. The Volunteers are in a great spot with Ohio State and Michigan left to play. TCU has a tough finish ahead, too, starting this weekend.

For Josh Heupel and company, the mission is simple. Win three games, and do it in style. We know they have the ammo to do it, and it seems like we all as a staff expect it.

First up — Missouri. Here are the predictions.

Terry: Tennessee 45, Missouri 17

The Missouri defense is much-improved, but they’re about to get their stiffest test of the season. Stopping Kentucky, South Carolina and Florida is one thing, but doing it in Neyland against Tennessee is another. I don’t see it happening, and I particularly can’t see the Missouri offense coming close to keeping pace.

It’s an interesting spot for Tennessee, who must bounce back after a dreadful day in Athens last Saturday. With everything on the line, motivation certainly won’t be an issue. Tennessee could use the style points to strengthen the ole ‘eye-test’ for future arguments against Ohio State, Michigan, TCU, Oregon or even LSU.

Noon kicks haven’t been an issue for Tennessee this year, and I fully expect the Vols to roll here.

Clint: Tennessee 31, Missouri 21

Last week, I actually nailed the Georgia score. I said the Bulldogs would score 27! Unfortunately, I also claimed that Tennessee would score 28. Just a couple of possessions off…

I’m going with a much closer score than the ratings systems for this one. To me, the spread of around 20 points is way too high.

Mainly, I’m banking on an emotional letdown of sorts. You could tell that the loss last week was a real gut punch for Tennessee. Having such a high flying offense get shot down so brutally takes a mental toll. Thankfully, this game is in Neyland Stadium. Even if the Volunteers start slow, the crowd is going to be engaged and let Missouri hear it the entire game. The team needs that mental boost.

I also believe the Tennessee defense will find things a bit easier against a Missouri offense that has been inept all year. There is no wall of future NFL starters paving the way, or a veteran starting quarterback taking advantage of your secondary weaknesses. The defensive efforts we saw against Kentucky and LSU are more in line with what should be expected against Missouri.

I think this game will be closer than fans want it to be. It could even take until deep into the 4th quarter to decide things. But I’ve got the Volunteers getting the extra push from the home crowd for a victory.

Nick: Tennessee 32, Missouri 14

I’m not real concerned about how the Vols “bounce back,” after the UGA lost. Heupel seems to have instilled a culture that’s enabled a pretty solid group of leaders within the team, starting with QB Hendon Hooker, and I imagine all the guys know they didn’t handle last week well.

Statistically, Missouri’s defense stacks up with the best of them — they’re 14th, right behind Alabama, according to NCAA dot com — but its strength of schedule ranks somewhere in the 40’s. Not terrible, but kinda “meh.”

Kansas State racked up 235 yard and four TDs on the ground in the Tigers’ second game of the year (a 40-12 loss), so perhaps the offensive line gets to take out some frustration from last week on Mizzou’s front seven, and Tennessee can get the ground game back on track. It won’t be an easy task — I’d say that K State game was definitely an outlier — because Missouri’s physical at the point of attack. UGA grinded out 491 yards of offense against the TIgers, and that’s the only game when Missouri’s allowed more than 400 yards this season.

The Tiger offense is also just bad. QB Brady Cook’s thrown more interceptions than touchdowns, and the offense has eclipsed the 400-yard mark just twice in nine games. Their 350-ish average yards per-game mark ranks them 99th in the country. I just don’t know that they’ve got enough offensively to complement what could be a stellar defensive effort coming on Saturday.

I’d like to see a win with some style points, but Mizzou’s defense and the weather could each be a thorn in the side of that idea. I reckon we’ll see come noon tomorrow.

Matthew: Tennessee 55, Missouri 10

I do not expect this to be close. The Vols are coming off their first loss and I imagine they’re going to be a bit pissed off. Missouri does the one thing that, if you can’t do it against Tennessee, you’re doomed, and that’s struggle mightily to throw the ball.

This won’t be the same kind of blowout as it was a year ago as Mizzou’s run defense is greatly improved, but they are susceptible through the air, and Hendon Hooker is going to be out with a point to prove on Saturday. I have the Vols big, and don’t be surprised if they hit 60-plus because style points are the only thing they can hang their hat on right now with the CFP.