By Charles Jay
The Tennessee Volunteers have a rather demanding constituency. So they aren’t going to have a lot of patience for a team that continues to miss out on the bowl season, particularly when they have shelled out a lot of money for a head coach who has been a part of a national championship in the past. That’s why it was a relief for Jeremy Pruitt that his squad was able to put together a run that placed it not only into a bowl game, but into a pretty good one.
The Indiana Hoosiers are one of those programs for which the expectations aren’t as high, and they haven’t quite reached the point where they are on the verge of real contention in the Big Ten, but there also a certain amount of relief about them finding their way into the post-season after being left out the last two years.
Tennessee (7-5 SU & ATS) and Indiana (8-4 SU, 7-5 ATS) will clash in the Gator Bowl, taking place on Thursday night at 7:05 PM ET at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville. And we have an interesting situation to ponder as we make our WagerWAR selection.
The game comes to you on ESPN, and BetAnySports customers will be able to place wagers on the game as it is happening as they utilize what is available to them via Sports Betting Ultra.
Both of these teams faced uncertain quarterback situations this season Redshirt freshman Michael Penix got injured, but head coach Tom Allen was fortunate that he had the previous starter available. Peyton Ramsey threw for 2227 yards and was intercepted only four times. And the Hoosiers finished with 33 points a game and 14th in the nation in passing yards per contest (offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer is the new head coach at Fresno State, but sticks around for this game).
Jarrett Guarantano came to Knoxville as a heralded freshman recruit, and has fallen somewhat short of expectations, although he was last year’s starter (1907 yards, 12 TD’s, 3 INT’s) and has thrown for 1937 yards this year. He is notorious for taking punishment, and that landed him into some injury trouble this season. Fans were also excited to get a glimpse of the future with Brian Maurer, but with 47% and a 2-5 TD-INT ratio, it’s tough to move forward right now.
There is a certain amount of historical significance to this game for Indiana, as this year’s edition can tie for the most wins in one season at the school.
In the college football odds we’re using with WagerWAR on this Gator Bowl games, the Volunteers are favored:
Tennessee Volunteers -3.5
Indiana Hoosiers +3.5
Over 55.5 points -110
Under 55.5 points -110
Remember that if you are a BetAnySports patron, you have the opportunity for “reduced juice,” which will give you a better price than the -110 you are used to laying. So check it out!
Whether Tennessee should be favored in this game is a question that deserves to be explored.
Indiana has had the kind of season where they have beaten the teams they ought to beat and lost – in three of the four cases by a margin – against those who would be considered worthy of a national ranking. Of course, we don’t necessarily consider Michigan State to be in that class, and that the Spartans were favored by two touchdowns over the Vols (back on September 26) was an instance where they were clearly overvalued. Having to go into double overtime to beat traditional rival Purdue in the regular season finale was not a feather in their cap.
One has to point to Tennessee’s five-game winning streak to end the season as a sign that this program is making progress. And we say that especially considering that there were teams like Kentucky and even Conference USA runner-up UAB among the victims. Losing to Georgia State in the season opener was an upset, for sure, but the Panthers ultimately proved to be better than a 25.5-point underdog when we look at their body of work.
And remember that Pruitt fiddled around a lot at quarterback, using the likes of JT Shrout and Maurer, who were raw and inexperienced. When it came down to it, the presence of Guarantano had a steadying effect.
So the number isn’t necessarily something that is going to scare us off, at least from that perspective.
Jauan Jennings is the team’s leading receiver with 57 catches for 942 yards, but he will be unavailable for the first half, as he’s been suspended for a personal foul he committed on a special teams play against Vanderbilt. So that’s a blow, and Tennessee doesn’t have the wide receiver depth Indiana has.
But they do have a downfield threat in Marquez Callaway (21.2 yards per catch) and little-used frosh Eric Gray exploded for 246 yards against Vanderbilt. Could this be the start of something big?
In wins over Nebraska and Purdue, Indiana had to overcome more than 1100 yards on the part of those opponents. No, Tennessee isn’t likely to get to that level, but the Vols have a better defense than most of which the Hoosiers faced. And that is the residue of Pruitt’s background, as he was a defensive coordinator at both Alabama and Georgia.
In the end, unless Gray DOES explode again, there is nothing scary about what Tennessee does on the offensive side. Even during the five-game winning streak, Guarantano has completed just 60 passes. And he’s only gone over the 200-yard mark three times, contributing just 55 net rushing yards all season. And he is handcuffed with the suspension of Jennings’, who caught 22 of those 60 passes in these last five games.
Ramsey has faced better stop units and come out of it with some decent numbers. He has more to work with on the offensive side, and we doubt Indiana is ever going to be out of this game. Under the circumstances, taking the points seems like the best idea as we continue with WagerWAR, the battle for the World WagerSport Ultimate Championship.
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