Tennessee takes its highest preseason national ranking since 2005 into Thursday’s season opener when the No. 9 Volunteers host dangerous Appalachian State. Senior quarterback Joshua Dobbs and junior running back Jalen Hurd lead a talented offense and first-year coordinator Bob Shoop takes over a Tennessee defense that is capable of making an impact in the SEC East.
“We have to embrace the expectations,” Dobbs told Gridironnow.com. “It’s our only option. When you downplay something, it means you don’t have the confidence you should have. You can’t shy away from the spotlight.” Appalachian State coach Scott Satterfield told reporters, “I think starting the season, (the Volunteers are) ahead of where Clemson was starting the season last year,” and much of Tennessee’s success may hinge on Dobbs (15 passing touchdowns, 11 rushing in 2015). The Volunteers won their final six games a season ago and Hurd compiled 401 yards rushing in the last three. The Volunteers will be challenged by the Mountaineers, who have won 17 of their last 19 games after edging Ohio in the 2015 Raycom Media Camellia Bowl and return 17 starters — led by senior running back Marcus Cox (1,423 rushing yards last season).
TV: 7:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network. LINE: Tennessee –20
LINE HISTORY: Tennessee opened as 21.5-point favorites but the public felt that point spread was a little bit too big and bet the line down to -20. The total opened at 57.5 and has been rising steadily all week – currently sitting at 61.5. View complete line history here.
WEATHER: There is a 40 percent chance of rain and thunderstorms Thursday night in Knoxville, Tennessee. Temperatures will be warm (mid 80’s) and humid (60 percent) with a slight 5-10 mph breeze blowing throughout the game.
WHAT BOOKS SAY: “The action on this game is all pointing to Tennessee. 85% on the moneyline, 86% on the -21 side and the 61 point total is getting 88% of the action on the OVER.” – Michael Stewart of CarbonGaming.ag.
ABOUT APPALACHIAN STATE (2015: 11-2 SU, 6-7 ATS, 6-7 O/U): Cox ran for nine scores last season and he will get solid support from sophomore Jalin Moore, who added 731 yards rushing – 528 in the final four games of 2015. Junior quarterback Taylor Lamb runs the show after registering 31 touchdowns passes and nine interceptions last year, but will have an inexperienced receiving corps to work with. The Mountaineers lost defensive end Ronald Blair – a fifth-round NFL draft pick – but linebacker John Law leads the way for a defense that returns eight starters.
ABOUT TENNESSEE (2015: 9-4 SU, 8-5 ATS, 7-6 O/U): One of the keys for Dobbs will be improving on a 59.6 completion percentage and coach Butch Jones told reporters his receiving group is a “work in progress.” Junior receivers Josh Malone and Josh Smith, along with junior tight end Ethan Wolf, each finished with at least 300 yards through the air last season and freshman wide-out Tyler Byrd could make an immediate impact. Junior running back Alvin Kamara (698 rushing yards rushing, 34 receptions) gives the Volunteers a dual threat, but Tennessee’s rebuilt offensive line is a concern.
* Mountaineers are 1-5 ATS in their last 6 games overall.
* Volunteers are 6-2 ATS in their last 8 games overall.
* Under is 5-0 in Mountaineers last 5 games in September.
* Over is 19-7 in Volunteers last 26 games in September.
COVERS CONSENSUS: When taking a peek at the Covers consensus data, Tennessee is garnering a steady stream of the spread picks at 73 percent. In early returns, Over is picking up 68 percent of the O/U wagers. View complete consensus data here.