Florida vs. Tennessee Predictions and Picks: Against the Spread and Latest Odds

The Tennessee Volunteers travel to No. 11 Florida to take on the Gators in Gainesville this Saturday on ESPN. College Football analyst Matt Hayes previews this game below.
Matt Hayes
Tue, September 21, 6:11 AM EDT

Florida vs. Tennessee Predictions and Picks: Against the Spread and Latest Odds

Florida Gators vs. Tennessee Volunteers

Point Spread: Florida -20

Total: 63

Game Time: Saturday, 7:00 PM ET, ESPN

Florida vs. Tennessee Prediction

Florida vs. Tennessee Odds

Out Of The Tunnel:

They said the right things after nearly beating Alabama. They will be focused on their resolve to move forward, knowing their season is far from over. That sounds good, but the reality is the Florida Gators are staring at a classic trap game this weekend in Gainesville. They should win by three touchdowns against outmanned rival Tennessee, but how much is left in the tank after an emotional loss to No.1 Alabama last weekend?

These are the games that drive coaches crazy. Practice lags in the early week, attention to detail wanes, and by the time the end of the week rolls around, the preparation isn't nearly as detailed as it should be. That said, Florida has owned this once-storied rivalry with Tennessee. The Gators have won four in a row, and 15 of the last 16. In the one loss, they blew a 21-3 halftime lead.      

Tennessee is in complete rebuild mode under new coach Josh Heupel. The offense is scoring points (42.7 ppg.) but hasn't played a defense with a pulse (Bowling Green, Pitt, Tennessee Tech). The Vols lost numerous key players to the transfer portal when coach Jeremy Pruitt was fired at the end of last season, including their best offensive lineman, tailback, linebacker, and defensive back from a team that already was thin on elite talent. In any other situation, this would be an ugly blowout. But at this moment, maybe Tennessee can turn it into a nasty slog and get the game to the fourth quarter with a chance to win.

When Florida Has The Ball:

When was the last time anyone in the SEC dominated the Alabama defense like Florida did last week? Florida's 254 rushing yards were the most given up by Alabama since a loss to Ohio State in the 2014 College Football Playoff semifinal.

This is the offense coach Dan Mullen wants to run, but a lack of a true dual-threat at quarterback prevented it. Now he has that with starter Emory Jones, who seemingly is placeholding until uber-talented sophomore Anthony Richardson (hamstring) gets healthy. With Jones, Florida is a dangerous team. With Richardson completely healthy, Florida can beat any team in the country.

Don't let the numbers fool you here: Tennessee is fourth in the nation in run defense, giving up 54.3 yards per game. The Gators might get that on the first series. There's a significant difference in stopping the running games of Bowling Green (129th out of 130 FBS teams), Pittsburgh (97th in the nation), and FCS Tennessee Tech, and the Gators (No.2 in the nation in rush offense).

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When Tennessee Has The Ball:

The Vols might have found a quarterback last week in a blowout win over Tennessee Tech.
Virginia Tech transfer Hendon Hooker has strung together back-to-back games of accurate throws (70.2 completion percentage) and complementary work in the run game (113 yards, 1 TD) to clearly separate from Week 1 starter Joe Milton. Hooker has a TD/INT ratio of 5/1, and he's a better fit for Heupel's Blur Ball offense. Joe Milton struggled with accuracy (51.4 percent) and held the ball too long. The idea with the offense is tempo leads to blown assignments, and missed tackles lead to big plays. That typically happens when talent levels are similar and sometimes when the talent level is (see: UCF under Heupel).

The Florida defense is a better than the unit that last year set all-time school records for single-season futility. The Gators are stronger upfront with two critical interior linemen from the transfer portal (Antonio Valentino, Daquan Newkirk). In addition, they're disruptive in the pass rush with ends Zach Carter, Brenton Cox, and Khris Bogle. If this Tennessee offense were playing last year's Florida defense, this game might be interesting for a half.     

The Bottom Line:

This, more than anything, is a test of Florida's mental fortitude. The Gators are better on the lines of scrimmage and in the skill positions. The Vols are, frankly, not good. The two wins were against one of the five worst FBS teams (Bowling Green) and an FCS school (Tennessee Tech). Their lone loss was to Pitt, which last week lost at home to Western Michigan.

Florida vs. Tennessee Predictions and Pick

Prediction: Florida, 45-14.

Pick: Florida -20 (-110)

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