West Virginia Mountaineers (0-0) at Tennessee Volunteers (0-0)
|Date & Time||Saturday September 1, 2018, 3:30 PM (EDT)|
The Line: Tennessee Volunteers +10 -- Over/Under: 61.5
We have some opening week college football action from the Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina on Saturday as the West Virginia Mountaineers take on the Tennessee Volunteers.
The West Virginia Mountaineers come into the 2018 season looking to build on a subpar 2017 campaign where WVU finished with a 7-6 overall record, including 5-4 in Big 12 play to finish in a four way tie for 4th place, leading to a berth in the Heart of Dallas Bowl where the Mountaineers fell 30-14 to Utah. Will Grier decided to forgo the pros for one more go around at West Virginia, and could push himself into the top quarterback slot at the 2019 NFL draft if he can build on last year, where Grier threw for just shy of 3,500 yards and 34 touchdowns before getting injured. Grier’s top target, David Sills V also decided to return to complete the lethal pairing that combined for 18 touchdowns and 60 receptions last season. T.J. Simmons transferred from Alabama to join a Mountaineer receiving corps that already has Gary Jennings who led WVU with 97 catches and a big play threat in Marcus Simms. The Mountaineers lone question mark offensively is at the running back position with 1,000-yard rusher Justin Crawford gone, but Martell Pettaway and Kennedy McCoy seem prepared to handle the rock when the time comes. On defense, over half of last year’s defensive unit returns, looking to improve on a defense that allowed 446 yards and 32 points per game last season. The line lost a key piece in Adam Shuler on the defensive end, but the Mountaineers have plenty of depth with the lines of Ezekiel Rose and Dante Stills. The secondary is one of the best units the Mountaineers have had in recent memory, with Derrek Pitts, Hakeem Bailey and Kenny Robinson leading the defense at the back.
The Tennessee Volunteers will be looking to rebound from a frustrating 2017 season that saw the Vols finish 4-8, including an 0-8 mark in conference play to finish dead last in the SEC East division. This will be Jeremy Pruitt’s first season at the helm of the Vols football program, with new offensive coordinator Tyson Helton being tasked to fix what at many times looked to be a broken down Volunteers offense last season that finished at the bottom of the SEC in scoring and 124th in the country in terms of total offense. Jarrett Guarantano is back under centre for Tennessee after throwing for nearly 1,000 yards, 4 touchdowns and 2 interceptions last season. One issue for the Vols that needs to be addressed immediately is the ground attack, with leading rusher John Kelly gone to the NFL. Ty Chandler finished second on the team in rushing, and will need to step it up if he’s going to help a Tennessee rush offense that logged just over 1,400 yards and 3.4 yards per carry last season. On defense, Vol nation got the best gift possible in Pruitt, a defensive minded coach and a new defensive coordinator in Kevin Sherrer who is fresh off of helping turn the Georgia Bulldogs defense around. The Volunteers finished 3rd in the SEC in pass defense last season, but if you dig deeper, while that’s nice on the surface, the numbers were skewed as all the opposition did against Tennessee was run the ball. The Vols allowed 200+ yards in 6 of their final 8 games last season, and only time will truly tell if Pruitt will be able to work his magic and turn the Vols into a strong team defensively this season.
West Virginia is 1-5-1 ATS in their last 7 games overall and 2-5 ATS in their last 7 non-conference games while the over is 5-2 in their last 7 games against the SEC. Tennessee is 6-1 ATS in their last 7 neutral site games and 2-7 ATS in their last 9 games overall while the over is 9-0 in their last 9 neutral site games.
I have no doubt that Pruitt will be able to help improve Tennessee defensively. However, the offense still leaves a lot to be desired, and while Guarantano has the potential to be very good for Tennessee, I need to see it before I can believe it and I need to see that the Vols have fixed their issues at running back. West Virginia is far superior offensively, and while the defence has room for improvement, I simply trust West Virginia more than I do Tennessee, so I’ll lay the points with the Mountaineers in this spot.