It’s the third Saturday in October, and as always, that means it’s time for the SEC rivalry game between the Tennessee Volunteers and the Alabama Crimson Tide, the top-ranked team in the country. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 EST on Saturday, October 20, at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tennessee. The game will be televised nationally on CBS.
The Crimson Tide opened the week as 28.5-point favorites. That line has increased slightly, with Alabama now favored by 29 points. Be sure to check out a full listing of the Week 8 college football odds.
Now at 7-0, the Crimson Tide keep rolling along. Star quarterback Tua Tagovailoa gave Alabama a scare last week when he left the team’s win over Missouri with a sprained knee. However, he appears to be fine and is expected to play this week. When healthy, Tagovailoa has been close to unstoppable, completing 72% of his passes with 21 touchdowns and no interceptions.
As for the rest of the Crimson Tide, they are clear favorites to win the national championship yet again and just five wins away from another trip to the SEC Championship Game. Alabama’s November schedule isn’t easy by any stretch, but with a bye next week, they shouldn’t be looking ahead to the likes of LSU, Mississippi State, and Auburn.
Tennessee, on the other hand, finally has some concrete reasons to optimistic. The Vols pulled off a huge road upset of Auburn last week, winning 30-23. It was the team’s first SEC win since the 2016 season, so there are definitely some positive vibes in Knoxville these days, even with Alabama coming to town to try and spoil the party.
With last week’s win, the Volunteers are 3-3, putting a bowl game within their reach. Obviously, a win over Alabama is unlikely. But as long as the Vols can keep things competitive and not let this week’s game hurt their confidence or momentum, Tennessee may have a chance to win three games down the stretch and qualify for a bowl game.
Of course, while this is technically a rivalry game, things have been a little one-sided recently. Alabama has won 11 in a row against Tennessee, with only two of those games being decided by single digits. The Volunteers haven’t beaten Alabama since 2006, so a win would be a long time coming but quite unlikely.
Even with Tennessee coming off a big win and playing at home, I have to swallow the points and lean toward Alabama to cover. As long as Tagovailoa is fit to start, it’s tough to bet against Alabama. I’m expecting another comfortable win for the Crimson Tide that covers the 29-point spread.
In fairness to Tennessee, they put up a fight against both Florida and Georgia in the games leading up to their win over Auburn. However, the Volunteers failed to hang around for four quarters, eventually losing both of those games by 26 points. I can see this game following a similar storyline. The only difference is that Alabama is better equipped than both Florida and Georgia to keep piling on the points after getting a comfortable lead. Even if they’re quick to pull Tagovailoa in favor of Jalen Hurts once they get a lead, Alabama can keep scoring to help ensure they cover the spread.
On the other side of the ball, I remain a little skeptical of the Tennessee offense. Jarrett Guarantano looked like a whole new quarterback last week compared to how he played earlier in the season. He made some truly outstanding throws against Auburn while accumulating over 300 passing yards and two touchdowns. However, there’s still the question of consistency from one week to the next, especially in a game when the Vols may have to throw the ball a lot to keep pace.
There’s also the tiny matter of Guarantano and the Tennessee offense facing the Alabama defense. The Crimson Tide were a little complacent a couple weeks ago against Arkansas and were promptly chewed out by Nick Saban. They responded last week by only giving up 212 total yards 10 points against a Missouri offense that usually doesn’t have trouble scoring. If Alabama was that good against Missouri, I don’t have high hopes for Tennessee being able to do much better than 10 or 14 points. Even that could be a little optimistic.
The fact that Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt is a former Saban assistant isn’t necessarily something that will work in favor of the Volunteers. Pruitt spent the last two season on the Alabama staff, so he should be familiar with most of their personnel. However, it’s worth mentioning that Saban has never lost to a former assistant. Saban will surely know Pruitt’s tendencies as much as he’s familiar with Saban and the Crimson Tide.
I’ll admit that a part of me thinks Tennessee has a chance to beat the spread and stay in this game. However, with the way Alabama has played this year, it seems risky going against them. My inclination is that once Alabama gets a little separation, building on that lead will become a little easier. In the end, the Crimson Tide will cover with ease.