The No. 21 Tennessee Volunteers square off against the Nebraska Cornhuskers on Friday, December 30th in the 2016 Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl. Kickoff inside Nissan Stadium in Nashville is set for 3:30 EST Friday afternoon with ESPN providing the television coverage.
Tennessee (8-4) was expected to win the SEC East this season. But after Florida upset LSU late in the year, that chance went by the wayside, and the Volunteers went on to lose to Vanderbilt in the season finale in an uninspired effort.
Nebraska (9-3) started 7-0 this season and was ranked in the Top 10 in the country. But then the schedule got tougher, and injuries to quarterback Tommy Armstrong did not help matters. The Huskers lost three of their final five games to close out the year.
Taking a look at the NCAA football lines, I find Tennessee as a 6.5-point favorite over Nebraska with a total set of 58.5 points. Check out my bowl predictions article to earn access to my picks on the straight up winners of every bowl game.
The Vols come into the bowl season undervalued because they underachieved this season. And they left a bad taste in bettors’ mouths with a 34-45 loss at Vanderbilt as 7.5-point favorites. But that was a bad spot for the Vols as they had been eliminated from SEC East contention the previous week as Florida beat LSU. And the Vols wanted that game more as they were looking for their sixth win to get bowl eligible.
I think we’ll see a big effort from the Vols here to go out on a high note. When they have been motivated, they’ve taken care of business this season. And we’ve seen the last two years that Butch Jones knows how to get his teams ready for bowl games. And Jones knows that he needs a win here to get back in the good graces of the fans.
The last two years the Vols have dominated the Big Ten in bowl games. They beat Iowa 45-28 in the 2014 TaxSlayer Bowl as 3-point favorites. Then they easily covered last year as 10-point favorites over Northwestern in a 45-6 beat down in the Outback Bowl. I think we see history repeat itself here.
There is a big gap in strength of schedule between these teams. Tennessee played the 18th-toughest schedule in the country, while Nebraska played the 64th. The Huskers started 7-0, but it was a deceptive 7-0. They should have lost to lowly Oregon, and they needed second-half comebacks to beat both Illinois and Purdue, two terrible teams. We saw what happened when the Huskers took a step up in class, losing to Ohio State and Iowa by a combined score of 102-13.
We saw what happened when the Huskers took a step up in class, losing to Ohio State and Iowa by a combined score of 102-13.
And now the Huskers are expected to be without starting quarterback Tommy Armstrong, who is doubtful with a hamstring injury. That means backup Ryker Fyfe will get the nod. Fyfe has struggled in limited action, completing just 49.2% of his passes for 315 yards with two touchdowns and one interception while averaging just 5.0 yards per attempt. Not to mention top wideout Jordan Westerkamp is expected to miss this game with a knee injury.
The extra bowl practices have helped the Volunteers get as healthy as they’ve been in a long time. The one player I trust the most in this game is senior QB Joshua Dobbs, who wants to end his career a winner. And Dobbs has this Tennessee offense hitting on all cylinders.
They have averaged 50.2 points over their last four games and Dobbs has had a hand in 15 of the 27 touchdowns scores. Dobbs holds the single-season rushing mark for a quarterback, and leads the SEC in touchdown passes (26), passer efficiency (152.6) and points responsible for (216). I just don’t know how Nebraska is going to keep up with Dobbs and company when a backup QB in Fyfe.
Tennessee is 45-25 ATS in its last 70 road games off one or more consecutive ATS losses. Nebraska is 11-26 ATS in its last 37 road games vs. good rushing teams who average at least 200 yards per game. Keep in mind that this will essentially be a home game for the Vols played in Nashville, which will also be a huge advantage. The Volunteers are 5-0 ATS in their last five neutral site games.