No. 11 Tennessee Vols vs. No. 20 Florida Gators
Line: Tennessee -10.5
Where: Neyland Stadium, Knoxville, Tennessee
When: Saturday, 9/24 at 3:30 p.m. ET
No. 20 Florida has won five in a row and 16 of its last 17 games against No. 11 Tennessee, but the Gators are sizeable road underdogs on Saturday afternoon.
Tennessee was a 4.5-point favorite in the preseason look-ahead line for this game at DraftKings before opening at -7.5 following its win over Akron last week. The line has only continued to grow since then, with money pouring in on the Vols to cover.
Almost every sportsbook now has Tennessee favored by 10.5 points as of Thursday afternoon, a six-point difference from the preseason look-ahead line. The total has seen some movement since opening at 63 last week, with the current number being 61.5 at most shops.
Tennessee has won and covered the spread in all three of its games this season, outscoring Ball State, Pittsburgh and Akron by a combined margin of 159-43. The Vols needed overtime to get past the Panthers, but they cruised against the two lower-level opponents that they faced.
Senior quarterback Hendon Hooker is priced at 50-1 to win the Heisman Trophy, putting him in a tie for the tenth-shortest odds at offshore sportsbook BetOnline. Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson has 100-1 odds further down the market.
Tennessee is listed at 30-1 to win the SEC, while Florida is a 100-1 longshot. The Vols are 60-1 to win the College Football Playoff—the Gators are 150-1, according to DraftKings.
Hooker completed 14 of 18 passes for 298 yards and two touchdowns in the 63-6 win over Akron before getting an early exit. Wide receiver Jalin Hyatt caught both touchdowns and racked up a career-high 166 receiving yards in the win.
The Vols have started the season 3-0 for the first time since they went 5-0 to open the 2016 season, which included a 38-28 win over Florida as 5-point home favorites. They have lost their five games in the series since then, covering the spread in three of those setbacks.
“Each week is different, each day is different, each season is,” Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel said. “For us, we’re however many months into our program, right here right now, and our kids are extremely confident, as they should be. They prepare the right way, they work hard, we have continued to grow. They know that preparation is going to be the most important thing.”
Florida needs Richardson to step up after a pair of poor performances in a row. The sophomore led Florida to a 29-26 upset win over Utah as a 2.5-point underdog in Week 1, but he threw two interceptions in a 26-16 loss to Kentucky two weeks ago before nearly costing his team a win with a pick-six against South Florida last week.
He is ranked last among the 14 SEC starting quarterbacks in passing yards, completion percentage and touchdown passes this season.
“It’s an area of our team where we need to improve,” Florida head coach Billy Napier said. “There’s no question about that. You can tell that. The average fan can tell that. My wife can. She’s informed me of that. So, we need to get better.”
The Gators tallied just four first downs after halftime last week, escaping with a 31-28 win as 23.5-point favorites. They have failed to cover the spread in eight consecutive road games, but they are 7-1 in their last eight trips to Neyland Stadium. Florida has also covered just once in its last 10 games overall, while Tennessee is 4-2 ATS in its last six games.
The Vols have used their high-powered offense to go ‘over’ the total in eight of their last nine games, including five straight home games. Florida has gone ‘under’ in four of its last six games, and these teams have cashed the ‘under’ in four of their last five head-to-head meetings. The Gators picked up a win and cover as 19-point favorites in a 38-14 final last year, as that one sailed ‘under’ the total of 65.
The pick: Florida +10.5
This is about as large of a disparity as you are going to find between the line from one year to the next, especially after Florida covered the spread last season. The Gators would have been 16-point favorites on a neutral field last year, but they would be 7.5-point underdogs on a neutral this time around. I think a decent-sized line adjustment is certainly necessary as the trajectory of both teams has changed over the last 365 days, but I am pretty confident that I can’t find 23-plus points of necessary line movement. This will be the most pressure that Tennessee has been under in a long time, while Florida is now flying under the radar following its last two performances. Richardson is facing a Tennessee defense that still has plenty to prove, especially against a team that has been dominant in this series. This line was available to bettors at -4.5 in the summer and -6.5 two weeks ago, so there won’t be any pro bettors recommending a play on Tennessee at -10.5. It’s Florida plus the points or pass now that the line has gone to double digits.