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Tennessee-Vanderbilt opening line: Vols still big favorites over Commodores

Missouri v Tennessee Photo by Donald Page/Getty Images

Title hopes done, Hendon Hooker hurt — and now a suddenly surging Vanderbilt team? The setup for the season finale next week couldn’t be much worse. Josh Heupel and Tennessee have six days regroup and hit the road, needing to find a win to secure a New Year’s Six bowl bid.

Tennessee will likely be rolling with Joe Milton at quarterback next Saturday in Nashville, following Hooker’s apparent knee injury. Milton has looked really good in mop-up duty, but putting an entire game together is a different story. We all remember how inconsistent and inaccurate he was as the starter last season.

And then there’s the rumored locker room drama, centered around Jeremy Banks, who didn’t make the trip to South Carolina. There seems to be at least something to those rumors, with Volquest ($$) reporting/confirming some details today. Banks did respond to the rumors today, for what it’s worth.

So what does that all add up to? To me it feels a whole lot like the 2016 team that found a way to unravel and miss out on an easy path to the Sugar Bowl. Heupel has this week ahead of him to iron out whatever needs to be ironed out and get this team back on track.

With all of that going on, Tennessee is still favored by 17 points against Vanderbilt, per DraftKings Sportsbook. I’ve got to say, with everything Tennessee has going on and with Vandy coming off of wins against Kentucky and Florida, that’s a surprisingly large spread.

The Commodores have made big strides throughout the year and suddenly sit at 5-6 on the year. They could find bowl eligibility with a win on Saturday night. Clark Lea’s team has come a long, long way from that ETSU loss 15 months ago.

Kickoff from Nashville is set for 7:30 p.m. ET Saturday on SEC Network.