At his best, Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson is a dangerous runner and dynamic playmaker. At worst, he has trouble passing with accuracy and directs a one-dimensional offense that’s too predictable.
Richardson must be at his best and find ways to hit on a few big pass plays if the Gators are going to hang with 11th-ranked Tennessee on Saturday. The Volunteers are double-digit favorites in this Southeastern Conference rivalry for the first time, and it has been a one-sided series with Florida winning 16 of the past 17 meetings.
Hendon Hooker is the primary reason Tennessee has its best shot in a long time to take out some frustrations on Florida. After transferring from Virginia Tech and taking over as the Vols’ starting quarterback last season, Hooker has passed for 36 touchdowns with three interceptions.
Tennessee runs a fast-paced offense that has averaged 52 points through three games, although two of the opponents were weak Mid-American Conference teams Akron and Ball State. In their only true test, the Vols were lucky to beat Pittsburgh 34-27 in overtime.
In Florida’s season-opening 29-26 upset of then-No. 7 Utah, Richardson threw for 168 yards and ran for 106. But his passing numbers this season (53.2 percent completions, zero touchdowns and four interceptions) are embarrassing, and this is first career start in a true road game. Richardson will likely rise to the occasion. The Gators’ run defense is a much bigger concern.
The fans in Knoxville will be in a frenzy, so this will be far from easy, but my numbers made Tennessee a 7-point favorite and this line has been inflated. I’ll take the points with Florida, which has dominated the rivalry for decades.
Pick: Florida + 11
I actually bet a few favorites this week — New Mexico State -2.5, Northwestern -7 and Utah -14 — but the lines have moved above the key numbers so I’ll pass at the current prices. It’s all dogs in this column, and hopefully the results improve dramatically.
Six more plays for Saturday (HOME team in CAPS):
Wisconsin (+ 18.5) over OHIO STATE:
The Buckeyes have enjoyed the bully role, beating up on Arkansas State and Toledo, but they needed a late rally as 17-point favorites to get by Notre Dame 21-10 in the opener. This is a similar matchup because of the Badgers’ ability to run the ball behind a physical offensive line. Running backs Braelon Allen and Chez Mellusi are capable of controlling the clock enough to keep Ohio State’s explosive offense out of rhythm. Prior to this trip to Columbus, Wisconsin had been the favorite in 24 consecutive games.
James Madison (+ 7) over APPALACHIAN STATE: There is no better situational spot for an underdog this week. A week after upsetting Texas A&M, the Mountaineers stunned Troy with a last-second Hail Mary. After a wild party, there’s typically a hangover. The Dukes, who blasted Middle Tennessee and Norfolk State by a combined score of 107-14, had a bye last week. James Madison, moving up from the FCS to the Sun Belt Conference this year, has a shot to pull the upset behind dual-threat quarterback Todd Centeio (nine touchdown passes, no interceptions).
OREGON STATE (+ 6) over Southern Cal: Only a few Pac-12 defenses are capable of containing Trojans quarterback Caleb Williams, and the Beavers are in that group. Oregon State coach Jonathan Smith deserves respect in the underdog role, as he displayed last year by upending USC and Utah. If they need to trade scores, the Beavers can do so with quarterback Chance Nolan and running back Deshaun Fenwick. This line has dropped from the -7 opener due to sharp money on the dog.
Stanford (+ 14) over WASHINGTON: Following turnover-riddled 41-28 loss to USC, the Cardinal had a week off to prep for this game, so the spot is good. With quarterback Tanner McKee and running back E.J. Smith, Stanford has enough offense to stay within striking distance. The Huskies made a smart coaching hire in Kalen DeBoer, who wisely brought in quarterback Michael Penix. The Indiana transfer is off to a hot start with 1,079 passing yards and 10 TDs in three victories. Upset alert? Washington was a 12-point home favorite in a loss to Stanford two years ago.
Kansas State (+ 12.5) over OKLAHOMA: Chris Klieman is a better bet as an underdog, especially when he faces Oklahoma. The K-State coach is 2-1 against the Sooners, winning as a 23.5-point dog in 2019 and as a 27-point dog in 2020. While the Wildcats were getting upset by Tulane a week ago, the Sooners were annihilating Nebraska, and this should be a bounce-back spot for Klieman’s defense and running back Deuce Vaughn.
Arkansas (+ 2) over Texas A&M: Are the Hogs too popular as dogs this week? It seems nobody likes the Aggies, but the line is barely moving. Arkansas coach Sam Pittman is 11-4 against the spread in 15 games when getting points, including a 20-10 win over A&M last year. The Aggies made a quarterback switch last week, when Max Johnson passed for 140 yards, but the offense remained anemic and A&M was outgained 392 to 264 by Miami. Arkansas is far superior offensively with quarterback KJ Jefferson and running back Raheim Sanders.
Last week: 2-4 against the spread