The No. 9 Tennessee Volunteers are set to host the Appalachian State Mountaineers in Week 1. Kickoff is slated for 7:30 EST on Thursday, Sept. 1 at Neyland Stadium. Oddsmakers have Tennessee currently listed as a 20-point favorite. The total for this contest is 58.5 points.

The Volunteers finished up the 2015 season at 9-4. It was another step in the right direction under head coach Butch Jones. Tennessee has improved by 2-games in each of his first 3 season. Last year they could have easily been even better. All four losses came by 7-points or less. With 17 returning starters, the Volunteers are popular pick to win the SEC East.

Appalachian State is coming off an impressive 11-2 record in 2015. Though the Mountaineers failed to win the Sun Belt with a 7-1 league mark. Only loss was to Arkansas State, who finished 8-0 in conference play. Not bad for a team that just moved up from the FCS two years ago. Appalachian State will be in the 4th year under Scott Satterfield and have 15 starters back.

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Early Lean on Tennessee -20

I’m going to lean on the Volunteers in this one, but it likely won’t be a play for me. There’s a lot about this game that scares me. We have already seen the line drop from 23.5 down to 20 and the public is all over the Volunteers. With no big injuries of note, that means the big money is on the Mountaineers.

The other concern here is that Tennessee has a huge game on deck against Miami in Bristol the following week. I know teams get up for home openers, but it will be hard not to look ahead.

With all that said, I still have a hard time seeing Appalachian State keeping this close enough to cover. The Mountaineers went 11-2 playing in the weakest conference in the country. Their only game against a Power 5 opponent came at Clemson and they lost by 31. They also lost by 38 at Michigan in the 2014 opener. Keep in mind that was before Jim Harbaugh arrived in Ann Arbor.

In terms of talent, Tennessee is light years ahead of what Appalachian State has to offer. Not to mention the Volunteers are one of the most experienced teams in the country. They are going to send out their best offense and defense they have had in the Jones era.

They opened up last season on a neutral site against Bowling Green and were a 21-point favorite and won by 29. They didn’t even play well in that game, giving up over 550 yards to the Falcons. It was a very similar spot to this game, as they had that massive game against Oklahoma on deck.

I just think that even a less than 100% Tennessee team can win here by at least 3 touchdowns. Heck they could have this spread covered before the 1st quarter is even in the books. I don’t see the Volunteers calling off the dogs until they are up by 30+. That should give us more than enough breathing room when it comes to avoiding the backdoor cover.

Sure Appalachian State wants to show well, but losing this game doesn’t ruin their year. Last thing they want to do is get a key player hurt in a game that doesn’t matter.

Lastly, we have a strong long-term system in play backing Tennessee to cover. Favorites of 10.5 to 21 points in the first month of the season are 27-6 (82%) ATS after closing out the previous year with 3 or more wins and have an experienced quarterback returning.