It is unusual for a venue to be the story, but Saturday’s game between No. 14 Tennessee and Virginia Tech at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway qualifies. The contest is expected to draw more than 150,000 fans, which would shatter the previous record of 115,109 when Michigan defeated Notre Dame at Michigan Stadium in 2013, and is the first football game at the track since the Washington Redskins played the Philadelphia Eagles in a 1961 exhibition before 10,000 when the capacity was 20,000.
The event is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for all involved, but the school’s coffers will also benefit as each university receives $4 million for selling 40,000 tickets apiece plus an expected $300,000 apiece because all grandstand seats are sold. Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs, though, is wary about what can happen if the game doesn’t come first, telling reporters: “If we are more focused on the environment than actually football itself, then we won’t come out on top. We have to be locked in to the game plan and locked in from the first snap.” Dobbs and the Volunteers trailed by 10 and needed overtime to defeat 21.5-point underdog Appalachian State 20-13 last week, so focusing on the field shouldn’t be an issue with that scare behind them. The Hokies, meanwhile, played their first game without Frank Beamer as coach since 1986, beginning the Justin Fuente era with a 36-13 victory over FCS member Liberty.
TV: 8 p.m. ET, ABC.
LINE HISTORY: Tennessee opened as 10.5-point favorites but their advantage was steadily bet up to -11.5 during the week. Some money has come back on Virginia Tech and the line has settled down to its current figure of 11. The total opened at 52 and took a rapid spike all the way up to 54.5 on Wednesday afternoon. The total peaked at 55 before returning to its current number of 54. Check out the complete line history here.
COVERS POWER RANKINGS: Tennessee (-13.5) – Virginia Tech (0) + neutral site (0) = Tennessee -13.5
Tennessee – DL S. Tuttle (Questionable Saturday, leg), WR J. Croom (Questionable Saturday, undisclosed), OL C. Hall (Out Saturday, knee).
Virginia Tech – No significant injuries to report.
WHAT SHARPS SAY: “While the game itself is pretty big for both teams to keep their momentum going, what this game means for college football is going to set a precedence for the future. 150,000 fans are expected and 39 teams from the FBS had lower season attendances last year than what the attendance is expected to be Saturday. This is a big game for Tennessee which narrowly escaped last week against Appalachian St. The Volunteers lost all four games last season by seven points or less so the chances of winning that many games this season by that margin are pretty slim. This is a must win game that very well could define their entire season.” – Covers Expert Matt Fargo.
ABOUT TENNESSEE (1-0 SU, 0-1 ATS, 0-1 O/U): The Volunteers, who have won seven straight games – their longest streak since 2001 – dropped four spots in the USA Today coaches poll after their lackluster performance against Appalachian State that produced only 319 yards of offense. Running back Jalen Hurd accounted for 110 of the 127 rushing yards – nearly 100 fewer than Tennessee’s average in 2015 – and is sure to attraction plenty of attention from Virginia Tech’s opportunistic defense. Dobbs, who is one of two quarterbacks in a Power Five conference that passed for 2,000 yards and rushed for 600 last season (Clemson’s Deshaun Watson), threw for 192 versus Appalachian State but was credited with minus-4 yards rushing on nine carries that included a pair of sacks.
ABOUT VIRGINIA TECH (1-0 SU, 0-1 ATS, 0-1 O/U): Defensive coordinator Bud Foster’s unit was in mid-season form against Liberty with three interceptions and a fumble recovery as cornerback Greg Stroman led the way with two picks and a pass breakup. Quarterback Jerod Evans must take care of the ball better after accounting for two of the Hokies’ four lost fumbles versus Liberty, but he offset those miscues by going 20-of-32 for 221 yards and four touchdowns. One of Evans’ top targets is junior tight end Bucky Hodges, who caught two touchdown passes last week after recording six as a sophomore and seven as a freshman.
* Volunteers are 4-0 ATS in their last 4 neutral site games.
* Hokies are 1-4 ATS in their last 5 vs. SEC.
* Over is 6-0 in Volunteers last 6 neutral site games.
* Over is 7-1 in Hokies last 8 non-conference games.
COVERS CONSENSUS: The Covers public is strongly supporting the underdogs from Virginia Tech in this contest at a rate of 63 percent. Under is picking up more of the totals wagers at 60 percent. View full consensus data here.