The SEC is going to be an elite conference this year from Georgia and Alabama at the top to teams like Florida and Auburn who could also vie for a spot in the playoffs.
But Tennessee could be a real surprise this season. With new coaches on offense, including receivers coach Tee Martin who won the 1999 National Title with the Vols, there’s a ton of optimism in Knoxville.
That starts with their opening game against Georgia State. The Panthers went 2-10 last year to finish last in the Sun Belt Conference but feel a turnaround could be in the cards this year. With a tough non-league schedule, it may be hard for the Panthers to stay above .500.
Saturday, August 31, 3:30 p.m. EST
Neyland Stadium, Knoxville, Tennessee
*All odds and betting info courtesy of OddsShark and originally posted by Bookmaker
Spread: Tennessee (-26 at -115)
With new offensive coordinator Jim Chaney moving to Knoxville for Georgia, the Vols offense will take on a new dimension. Pulling in the top two offensive line recruits in the nation also helps fill a deep area of need.
Offensive tackle Trey Smith, projected in the second round of the 2020 draft should he declare, seems to have recovered fully from blood clots in his lungs and his presence will help steady that line. Tennessee needs to protect quarterback Jarrett Guarantano, who has been sacked 48 times in two seasons.
Protection will give Guarantano time to find his three best weapons on offense – star receiver Marquez Callaway and Jajuan Jennings. He’ll also how Ty Chandler to hand the ball to out of the backfield.
The football program has been around for only nine years at Georgia State yet the Panthers continue to schedule high-profile non-conference opponents. They’ve got Alabama on the slate for next year, Auburn the year after, and LSU in the near future.
But against the Vols, they’ll really need to tighten up just to get remotely close. The Panthers ranked near the bottom of FBS last season in total defense (489 yards allowed per game) and scoring defense (37.4 points allowed).
The offense has operated well when it has the ball, however. Dan Ellington threw for over 2,000 yards last year and rushed for 625 himself. He’s efficient but doesn’t have the arsenal of receivers a team like Tennessee does.
Georgia State is in over their head for sure and five of their last seven games have gone over. Tennessee was trending under by the end of last year but a new-look, up-tempo offense should help change that.
The last time these two teams met in 2012, Tennessee earned a 51-13 victory over Georgia State. It could very well be a near-duplicate score line as the Vols get ready to prove they’re among the top offenses in the SEC.
Pick: Tennessee should take this one handily but whether they hit the over is a tough one. That would account for the Panthers’ offense moving the ball well enough to score once or twice. It’s entirely possible, but the Vols still prevail (-26).