Alabama vs. Tennessee Prediction, Pick Against the Spread, and Latest Odds

Alabama vs. Tennessee prediction, betting pick, and odds breakdown from college football expert Matt Hayes. Can the Volunteers challenge the Tide? What's the best bet for this SEC matchup? Find out below.
Matt Hayes
Mon, October 18, 12:14 PM EDT

Alabama vs. Tennessee Prediction, Pick Against the Spread, and Latest Odds

Spread: Alabama -24.5

Total: 67

Game Time: Saturday, October 23, 7:00 p.m. ET

Where to Watch: ESPN

Alabama vs. Tennessee Odds

Alabama Crimson Tide vs. Tennesse Volunteers - Out of the Tunnel

We’re careening toward the inevitable in the SEC: Alabama vs. Georgia in the SEC Championship Game. The only variable is how each team evolves over the next six weeks to set up the most anticipated SEC Championship Game since Florida and Alabama played as No.1 vs. No.2 in 2009.

Evolving for Alabama means improving defensively, where the Tide has been a work in progress for the last two seasons. The defensive deficiencies didn’t significantly impact last season because Alabama overwhelmed opponents with an offense that could score on any play.

This season is a different story, if only because the Alabama offense was still feeling out new starters and new coaches. That all changed last weekend against Mississippi State. Alabama went on the road against a top 5 SEC defense, scored 49 points, and had 543 total yards.

Tennessee nearly pulled out a signature win last week for first-year coach Josh Heupel but lost in the final seconds to Ole Miss and underscore the reality that this is a heavy lift for Heupel moving forward. Now the Vols reach the stress point of Heupel’s first season: games at Alabama, Kentucky, and home against Georgia over the next four weeks. There are three straight games against top 15 teams, and the ultimate test is to see if Heupel has this locker room with full buy-in, or will factions build with potential ugly losses on the horizon?

When Tennessee Has the Ball

The turnaround on offense has been nothing shy of remarkable. The Vols couldn’t string together plays without mistakes, much less first downs, in Jeremy Pruitt’s last season as coach.

With Heupel’s fastball offense, they’re running plays at a record pace and stressing defenses like Tennessee offenses haven’t in years. Then there’s quarterback Hendon Hooker, a revelation of sorts when the Vols needed it most.

Tennessee looked out of sorts early in the season with Joe Milton as the starter, but everything changed when Hooker took over. He gave Tennessee a run threat at the position, and as important, provided the Vols an accurate thrower who got the ball out on time.

Now Tennessee is as dangerous offensively as anyone in the SEC, including Alabama. The Vols don’t have the talent of the Tide, but they have a system and players who fit it well enough to score on anyone.

The most significant difference between the Tennessee offense and other elite offenses in the SEC is the margin of error. For success, the Vols have to be nearly perfect in the triangle of the passing game – pass protection, receivers getting separation, the quarterback throwing accurately. Other teams, like Alabama, don’t necessarily need all three.

The Vols have two underrated tailbacks -- Tiyon Evans (486 yards, 6 TD) and Jabari Small (324 yards, 3 TD) – who can hurt defenses if they try to drop seven and eight in coverage to stop the passing game. Hooker’s accuracy (68.8 percent of passes completed) then becomes a weapon, and his numbers show just that (1,296 yards, 14 TD, 1 INT).

This season, Alabama, shaky in coverage, got better in the back end last week against Mississippi State because the Bulldogs aren’t committed to running the ball if defenses drop eight in coverage. Tennessee is committed to run – and can run with success.

When Alabama Has the Ball

Of course, there would be growing pains with the first-year play-caller and head coach getting comfortable with what each other wants. And with a new quarterback, and receivers, and a reshuffled offensive line.

But this is the beast Nick Saban has created at Alabama since he decided to go all-in on winning with offense. His teams have gotten so good at scoring points. The bar has been set so high, averaging 44.3 points per game (37 in SEC games) over the first half of the season is a problem.

Until last week – until Quarterback Bryce Young played his best game, and Alabama had a balance between the run and pass and one of the best defenses in the SEC had no idea how to stop it.

Alabama is most dangerous when it can run the ball with Tail-Backs Brian Robinson and Roydell Williams and throw off play action with Young. Running the ball allows Wide Reciever John Metchie to win on the outside with deep cuts and Wide Receiver Jameson Williams to win on deep balls.

Running the ball with consistency allows Tight Ends Jahleel Billingsley and Cameron Latu to work the middle of the field. It allows Wide Receivers Slade Bolden and JoJo Earle to win on third down crossers. The options for first-year offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien are limitless.

Alabama is in refine mode offensively. They know what they’re good at, and they’re trying to get where it’s second nature – because the big, bad Georgia defense (and the biggest game of the season) is getting closer.

The Tide won’t get much pushback from Tennessee, which hasn’t played well defensively in games that matter. If the Vols don’t get consistent pressure on the quarterback (11 sacks in four SEC games), their deficiencies in the back end are heightened and exposed.

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Alabama vs. Tennessee Prediction - The Bottom Line

This game is a tuneup for Alabama and nothing more. The Third Saturday in October is a long way from the classic rivalry games of the past, but Heupel – at the very least – has this Vols team showing fight.

The Score: Alabama, 47-14

Alabama vs. Tennessee Pick: Alabama -24.5 (-110)

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