Tennessee In The National Spotlight For Test Against No. 1 Georgia

Both SEC teams in the state of Tennessee are in the unenviable position of being three-score underdogs this weekend — at home.

While Vanderbilt is set to host a solid Kentucky squad, the national spotlight will shine on Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, where Tennessee will take on No. 1-ranked Georgia, which is also the favorite to win the College Football Playoff national championship.

Most online sportsbooks in Tennessee have the Bulldogs as 20-point favorites, but FanDuel (-19.5) and BetMGM (-20.5) offer a slight edge, depending on which side you fancy. The game is set to kick off at 3:30 p.m. ET on CBS.

Do the Vols have a chance against Georgia?

The Volunteers (5-4, 3-3) have a few things going for them. They enter off their best win of the season, a 45-42 shootout victory at Kentucky with quarterback Hendon Hooker throwing for 316 yards and four touchdowns.

The Tennessee offense has been humming all season. It ranks 15th in the nation in points per game (38.2), but the Vols have yet to face anything like the Georgia defense.

Georgia (9-0, 7-0) games have gone under the total in five straight contests, but not because the Bulldogs aren’t scoring. They’ve averaged 35.6 points during that span and allowed a paltry 7.2 points per game from the opposition. Right before that under streak began, Georgia took care of the over (54.5) all by itself in a 62-0 thrashing of Vanderbilt.

Tennessee’s win over Kentucky was its first against a ranked opponent this season. The other three resulted in losses — to Florida, Ole Miss, and Alabama — both straight up and against the spread.

There isn’t a good comparable for the Georgia defense on Tennessee’s schedule, because the Bulldogs are so far and away the best defensive unit in the nation. The only similar point spread involving the Vols came as a 24.5-point underdog against Alabama for a game in Tuscaloosa. How much is home-field advantage worth for Tennessee’s homecoming game? Probably not much. Tennessee is 3-2 at home, with the three wins against inferior opponents (Bowling Green, Tennessee Tech, and South Carolina), and 2-2 on the road.

How about the total?

A points total of 56 has been set at most sportsbooks, while FanDuel sits at 55.5.

You can pencil Georgia in for at least 30 points. The Bulldogs haven’t scored fewer than 30 in eight games since their 10-3 win over Clemson to start the year, and Tennessee has surrendered more than 30 in each of its games against ranked teams this season. Whether it is Stetson Bennett or JT Daniels under center for Georgia, the Bulldogs will put up points.

But can the Vols score enough touchdowns of their own to put the over in play? Kentucky and South Carolina managed only 13 points apiece against the Bulldogs, and Auburn had 10. And those are the only teams to put up double digits against Georgia this season.

Can Vandy end SEC losing streak?

It has been hard to endorse Vanderbilt against any SEC opponent in recent years, as the Commodores have lost their last 18 conference games.

But there have been some signs of life this season, albeit against the lower tier of the SEC. Vanderbilt nearly upset South Carolina, as a 19-point underdog, and played Missouri tough last week as a 16-point ‘dog.

Now Vanderbilt will host a Kentucky squad (6-3) that is struggling after three straight losses. The Wildcats, when undefeated and ranked 11th, did their best to hang with Georgia for a half in Athens on Oct. 16 but ultimately succumbed. Then came a two-score loss at Mississippi State and the shootout defeat to Tennessee, with Kentucky favored in each.

The matchup against Georgia was probably the most important game in modern Kentucky football history, and the Wildcats haven’t responded well to that setback. It might be the right team and the right time for Vanderbilt to break its SEC losing streak.

Kentucky is favored by 21.5 points pretty much everywhere, but there is some variation in moneyline prices on the Commodores at Tennessee sportsbooks, from +800 at BetMGM to +1050 at TwinSpires.

Photo: Butch Dill/USA TODAY