Every once in a great while, you are reminded why you love college football. Some Saturdays hit differently, and this past Saturday was certainly one of those.
If you root for Tennessee football, you’ve been through it. You’ve felt disappointment time and time again. You’ve poured yourself into Saturdays, and specifically a rivalry with Alabama, and it gave you nothing in return. Until now.
We’ll talk about the many gambling ramifications to emerge from what feels like the best football game we will see all season in a moment.
Tennessee covered a spread that ballooned up to 9 at kickoff. The Vols blew a lead, only to win 52-49 on a game-winning kick that soared like a poorly constructed paper airplane.
Cigars were lit and smoked. Goal posts were destroyed and carried around campus. A fan base that has lost this game repeatedly finally experienced the kind of joy that has escaped them for so long.
There is beauty in all of this, and it goes beyond your bet or fandom. That was a chaotic, imperfect football game, and I mean that in the best possible way. No matter what happens the rest of the way for the program from Knoxville, this will be larger than all of it.
And yes, the betting impact from this game is sizable.
Tennessee QB Hendon Hooker is now + 500 to win the Heisman, behind only Ohio State QB C.J. Stroud. The Vols are now 16-1 to win the national championship, with their odds shrinking tremendously over the past couple of days.
Realistically, these possibilities all have a very real path. Tennessee Plays UT Martin, Kentucky, at Georgia, Missouri, at South Carolina and at Vanderbilt to close out the season.
The game at Georgia, of course, could very well decide the SEC East. Outside of that game, the Vols have an opening.
Alabama is still in great shape as well, all things considered. The Tide are + 450 to win the title, although they trail Ole Miss in the SEC West. Oh, and 18-1 on Bryce Young to win the Heisman actually feels like mighty fine value.
The Tide will get a crack at Ole Miss in their stadium in November. The rest of the schedule, including a game against Mississippi State this week, also feels rather manageable.
There’s a chance Tennessee and Alabama meet again in December. If that is indeed the case, let me say the obvious.
Sign me up.
The Appetizer: Football Tidbits and Observations
1. Let’s stick with Alabama for a moment longer. Penalties and mistakes have plagued this team all season long. It almost cost the Crimson Tide against Texas, and it absolutely cost them Saturday. They finished with 17 penalties, the most ever under Nick Saban. They missed a potential game-winning field goal as well, which is something that has plagued this dynasty. For Alabama to rebound, and it still can, it has to do a transformation of sorts.
2. That was a Michigan moment. I didn’t necessarily doubt the Wolverines heading into Saturday, although I wanted to see more. Jim Harbaugh’s team responded with a colossal effort, easily covering the 7-point spread against the Nittany Lions. A slew of elements stood out, although the Michigan rushing attack, which totaled 418 yards, was electric. Blake Corum is now 12-1 to win the Heisman, which isn’t a bad bet. Michigan has a ton of winnable games coming up, and Corum will likely be at the center of a lot of them.
3. Yes, Syracuse is 6-0, and that’s frankly awesome. The Orange smothered NC State 24-9 as 3-point favorites. Devin Leary, NC State’s star QB, couldn’t play and is now done for the year. That certainly hurt the Wolfpack, but that shouldn’t take away from a tremendous run for a team no one expected to be unbeaten at this point. Syracuse will now get a crack at Clemson in a suddenly fascinating matchup Saturday. More on that in a moment.
4. Do we still think Matt Campbell is a desperate program’s coaching savior? Iowa State has lost eight of its last nine one-score games, with four of those losses coming in its last four games. Campbell’s team did cover the 15.5-point spread against Texas on Saturday, and it did play hard until the end. However, this entire season feels very 2021 Nebraska-y at the moment, which is an interesting connection. Are you ready to commit an enormous sum of cash for this guy? We’ll see.
5. On the topic of hiring coaches in the Big 12, how about Sonny Dykes? TCU didn’t cover a spread that grew to 5 against Oklahoma State, but the Horned Frogs still won in double overtime. With a new head coach and plenty of offense, this team is going to be a problem pretty much every week moving forward. Also, Max Duggan at 40-1 to win the Heisman isn’t a bad bet (it’s just not as good as it was a few weeks ago).
6. Before we move on, we need to celebrate Week 7 a little longer. Three of the biggest games — Alabama-Tennessee, TCU-Oklahoma State and Utah-USC — gave us the following: The winners scored 138 points; the losers scored 131. One game went to OT, one was decided by a walk-off field goal and the last came down to a gutsy two-point conversion call. Truly a legendary week of CFB.
The Buffet: The Five Best Games of the Weekend
1. No. 9 UCLA at No. 10 Oregon (-6, 70.5)
Somewhat quietly, Oregon has completely rebuilt its season after being crushed by Georgia in Week 1. The Ducks have won five straight and covered four times in those five games. If you want to question the competition after the Georgia game, you can do so fairly. But the rise has been noteworthy. UCLA, on the other hand, hasn’t had to overcome a loss just yet. The Bruins are unbeaten and have covered the spread in four of their six games this season. It might be obvious to say, but the QBs will decide this game. UCLA’s Dorian Thompson-Robinson has been excellent; Oregon’s Bo Nix has been largely excellent outside of an occasional blip. Oh, and home field. That feels like a very big deal. The line might surprise some who are on the UCLA bandwagon, although I’m not one of them.
2. No. 14 Syracuse at No. 5 Clemson (-13.5, 50.5)
I’ve bet against Clemson on a handful of occasions this season, including on Saturday, and each time I’ve lost. While Florida State ultimately made it tight at the end, the Tigers were impressive. And QB DJ Uiagalelei, despite some struggles early, has played significantly better over the past month. He’s now 22-1 to win the Heisman and a realistic threat to win the award. Syracuse has covered in all but one game, and the Orange are powered by running back Sean Tucker, a do-everything player much like Clemson RB Will Shipley. Oh, and Syracuse currently has the nation's No. 6 scoring defense. The Orange are more than capable of making this one weird, although one concern lingers: Can Syracuse make up for the athletic/talent advantage that Clemson possesses at so many positions?
3. No. 20 Texas (-4, 65) at No. 11 Oklahoma State
Oh, this is a big one. Had Texas not lost to Texas Tech earlier in the season, it would be even bigger. As is, however, two of the Big 12’s best teams will duke it out. The Longhorns nearly dropped another against Iowa State, and they very well could have had the Cyclones not made a handful of key blunders. Texas was nowhere close to covering the 15.5-point spread. For Mike Gundy’s team, well, it covered against TCU. That’s the good news. The bad news is that OK State took a 30-16 lead with a little more than one minute left in the third quarter and ultimately lost. As for this matchup, Spencer Sanders versus Quinn Ewers feels like a heavy-hitting duel at QB. I also wonder how much the Pokes’ loss to TCU will linger as a talented team comes to town.
4. No. 17 Kansas State at No. 8 TCU (-5, 59)
We stick in the Big 12 for another big ol' football game. Both teams have been largely excellent ATS. Both teams also beat Oklahoma, which isn’t typical in this conference. Now, we have an unlikely (and still wildly interesting) tussle between ranked teams. Like many games this week, it starts with the QBs. Max Duggan struggled some early against OK State; he woke up in the second half. Adrian Martinez, formerly of Nebraska, has found new life at K-State. It just feels TCU might be a cut above, especially at home. While Kansas State is dangerous, and TCU must avoid the dreaded hangover, the Horned Frogs are an early lean.
5. No. 24 Mississippi State at No. 6 Alabama (-21.5, 62)
In different ways, both teams enter this one licking their wounds. Alabama’s inability to beat Tennessee has already been discussed. Lost amid the madness, Mississippi State lost outright to Kentucky as a 3.5-point favorite. The Bulldogs totaled less than 300 yards of offense, which was a drastic departure from what this team had done in recent weeks. The number on this game is robust, and that should come as no surprise. The concern I have for Alabama is the health of Young, who was brilliant against the Vols but was also hit a ton. One can’t help but wonder if that game, both physically and emotionally, will linger. I want to see where this line drifts throughout the week. Mississippi State, while rough last week, can be a pesky opponent in games like this. Then again, Saban probably isn’t happy. (Practice is going to suck this week.)
Last Call: Parting Shots on Other Games of Note
No. 7 Ole Miss (-1.5, 64) at LSU
This, obviously, will be a tall task for Ole Miss. While LSU was clobbered at home by Tennessee a few weeks ago, Ole Miss can’t move the ball through the air like the Vols can. The home team will probably get plenty of love here.
Minnesota at No. 16 Penn State (-5, 44.5)
Yet another matchup where both teams will have to rebound from losses, and both Penn State and Minnesota are capable of bouncing back. There might not be an abundance of offense in this one.
No. 21 Cincinnati (-3, 62.5) at SMU
Since losing the opener to Arkansas, the Bearcats have been on a roll. SMU, which played tight with TCU, could present a bigger challenge despite being 3-3. Don’t sleep on this game.