Tennessee Favored By Almost A Touchdown In Music City Bowl

An influx of positive COVID-19 cases nationwide has wreaked havoc on college football’s bowl season, but Tennessee and Purdue are still scheduled to battle in the TransPerfect Music City Bowl at 2 p.m. CT Thursday.

The game’s location in Nashville favors the Volunteers, who get to compete in their home state. Tennessee sportsbooks give the Volunteeers the edge in the pseudo-home game, as they’re considered 5.5-point favorites at BetMGM, DraftKings, FanDuel, and TwinSpires. Caesars and WynnBET list Tennessee as a 6-point favorite.

Purdue without two NFL prospects

Part of the reason for Tennessee’s favorable line is the absence of two Purdue stars. Stud wide receiver David Bell and defensive end George Karlaftis both opted out of the game to prepare for the 2022 NFL draft. Each player figures to be selected in the early rounds. 

Bell secured 93 receptions for 1,286 yards and six touchdowns this season, adding to an impressive first two seasons in West Lafayette. During his Purdue career, Bell caught 232 passes for 2,946 yards and 21 touchdowns in 29 games. 

Karlaftis had 29 tackles for loss and 14 sacks in 26 career games with the Boilermakers, and much like Bell, he’s been a force for three seasons in the Big Ten. 

The loss of the two players certainly hurts Purdue, but it still has starting quarterback Aidan O’Connell. He’s one of the team’s top players, throwing for nearly 8 yards per attempt this fall with 23 touchdown passes compared to eight interceptions. Purdue relies heavily on the pass, throwing the ball about 60% of the time. 

Even without Bell, the bowl matchup could be a shootout. Tennessee averages 38.8 points per game, and the Boilermakers averaged 36.3 points per game in their final four games of the season. 

BetMGM lists the total at 63.5 points, while Tennessee’s other major sportsbooks have a higher total. Caesars, TwinSpires, and WynnBET all sat at 64 Tuesday morning, with DraftKings and FanDuel at 64.5.

Tennessee comfortable as betting favorite

When favored this season, the Volunteers generally have taken care of business. Tennessee is 4-2 against the spread when favored, and it’s 6-0 straight up in those contests. When favored by fewer than 14 points, Tennessee is a perfect 2-0 ATS. 

BetMGM lists Tennessee’s moneyline at -200, while FanDuel has -205 and DraftKings and TwinSpires have -210. Caesars lists Tennessee moneyline at -215, and WynnBET goes all the way to -220.

Starting quarterback Hendon Hooker deserves some of the credit for Tennessee’s record when favored, especially when the Volunteers are a short favorite. They beat Kentucky 45-42 when favored by one point, and Hooker was 15-20 for 316 passing yards and four touchdowns. 

When favored by 10.5 points over South Carolina, Hooker finished with just under 300 total yards and four total touchdowns in a 25-point win. On the season, the Virginia Tech transfer averaged about 265 total yards per game, and he threw 26 touchdowns compared to just three interceptions. Hooker plans to return next season, making Tennessee a possible contender in the SEC East. 

Purdue, on the other hand, is 3-3 ATS as an underdog with three outright wins. Those included noteworthy wins over Iowa and Michigan State, which each were ranked in the top five of the AP poll at the time.

Photo: Calvin Mattheis/USA TODAY