The No. 23 Tennessee Volunteers (8-4) will take on the No. 13 Northwestern Wildcats (10-2) in the Outback Bowl on New Year’s Day. Kickoff is scheduled for 12:00 EST at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida and will be televised on ESPN2. Our college football bowl odds currently have Tennessee listed as a 8.5-point favorite over Northwestern.
The Volunteers were expected to contend for the SEC East title this year, but ended up finishing in a tie for second at 5-3 with Georgia. After a disappointing 3-4 start, Tennessee proceeded to close out the season with 5 straight wins and will look to take that momentum into their bowl game.
The Wildcats opened the season 5-0 which included a shocking 16-6 upset win at home over Stanford in their opener. Things took a turn for the worse with back-to-back ugly losses at Michigan (0-38) and at home against Iowa (10-40), but Northwestern responded by winning their final 5 games of the season to finish 10-2.
Early Lean on Tennessee -8.5
To most this is going to seem like a lot of points for the Volunteers to be laying against a team that won 2 more games than they did during the regular season, but I just feel that Tennessee is one of the most underrated teams in the country and are simply too talented for Northwestern to keep this came close.
A lot of people don’t realize just how close the Volunteers were to going undefeated. Tennessee’s 4 losses all came by 7-points or less and were so close to some big wins over elite programs, two of which are playing in the playoffs. The Volunteers blew a 17-3 4th quarter lead in a 24-31 overtime loss to Oklahoma, gave up a 27-14 lead in a 27-28 loss at Florida with less than 5 minutes to play, lost 20-24 to Arkansas after building a 14-0 lead and led 14-13 at Alabama with less than 3 minutes to play.
The most impressive thing about Tennessee and all those close losses early, is they didn’t let it ruin their season. The Volunteers responded by winning their final 5 games and I think we are going to see them beat up on another Big Ten team in their bowl game. Last year the Volunteers completely dominated Iowa 45-28 in the TaxSlayer Bowl, which they led 42-7 going into the 4th quarter.
A lot of people don’t realize just how close the Volunteers were to going undefeated. Tennessee’s 4 losses all came by 7-points or less and were so close to some big wins over elite programs, two of which are playing in the playoffs.
I know the Wildcats are a well coached team and like Tennessee closed out the regular season with 5 straight wins, but I just think they are too limited offensively to hang in this game. Northwestern averaged a mere 20.7 ppg on the season and only scored more than 27 points twice all year and one of those performances came in a 41-0 win over FCS foe Eastern Illinois. The win over Stanford looks nice, but the Cardinal clearly weren’t expecting much of a fight from a Wildcats team that was coming off back-to-back 5 win seasons. The thing that stands out to me is in their only other two games against top level teams, they were completely dominated, losing by 38 at Michigan and 30 at home to Iowa.
There’s going to be those that look at the Northwestern defense and how it ranks 11th in the country, allowing just 310.5 yards/game, but a big reason for that is they played a lot of bad offensive teams in the Big Ten. Their 12 opponents combined only averaged 368.0 yards/game. Tennessee has faced bigger, faster and stronger defenses in the SEC, as well as their non-conference game against Oklahoma. Needless to say the Volunteers won’t be intimated and likely won’t need to score a ton here to win by double-digits.