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Kentucky vs. Tennessee: Analysis, expert picks & predictions

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A lot will be decided for both teams on Saturday in Kroger Field.

Kentucky v Tennessee Photo by Donald Page/Getty Images

The Kentucky Wildcats are quietly on the verge of a good rebound season from last year’s 10-win historic run.

In every other season in Kentucky football since 1960, any season following a year with at least nine wins ended with a losing record. The final result of this season for the Wildcats hinges on Saturday’s game against Tennessee. Win and eight wins is possible. Lose and a bowl berth is still in question.

Tennessee’s fate hangs even more on the outcome of Saturday’s game. If they were to defeat Kentucky, they are one victory from a bowl bid and are staring a winning record in the face despite a catastrophic beginning to the season. However, a loss creates a must-win situation in both of their final two games against Missouri and Vanderbilt in order to go to a bowl.

There is a lot on the line, and both teams have some interesting storylines heading into the homestretch of the season.

Analysis

Kentucky’s story for this year has been anchored by major injury. Third string quarterback Danny Scalzo went down before the season began, starting quarterback Terry Wilson was lost for the year on a horse collar tackle, and Sawyer Smith was basically beat to a pulp in his first two starts.

All of this led to the emergence of wide receiver Lynn Bowden at quarterback, his first time since high school. Despite the fear of risking his health and becoming one dimensional, the Wildcats have been rolling offensively and Bowden seems to be made of iron. Setting aside the monsoon at Georgia, the Wildcats have averaged 26.5 points per game in Bowden’s other two SEC starts. That is nearly double the 13.7 points they averaged in their first three conference outings.

Tennessee, on the other hand, has seemed to find their rhythm organically. Throwing the Alabama game away (it’s only fair), the Volunteers have averaged 30.5 points per game in their last two conference games. That is more points than they put up in their first two games of the season against Georgia State and BYU, both of which were losses.

While Jarrett Guarantano has certainly looked like a top-tier SEC quarterback as of late, the real story has been Jauan Jennings. The wide receiver has averaged more than 80 receiving yards per game this season and scored seven touchdowns. In his last two games, he has put up 122 receiving yards per game, and he scored two very impressive touchdowns against South Carolina two weeks ago.

Regardless of this offensive discussion, the real strength of both teams has come on the defensive side. And the success of both units has been a progression. They both seem to be hitting their primes right now, and it will be interesting to see how each responds to the opposition’s budding offense.

Betting Trends

Kentucky opened as a 3 point favorite to win on Saturday. That is basically calling the teams even and giving Kentucky three points for home field advantage. However, the line has moved as far as Tennessee being favored by a point in some sports books. That means a lot of people are putting their money on the Vols.

Here are some recent better trends for both teams:

-Tennessee is 22-2 SU in its last 24 games when playing Kentucky

-Kentucky is 1-6 ATS in its last 7 games when playing Tennessee

-Kentucky is 8-2 ATS in its last 10 games

-Tennessee is 5-5 ATS in its last 10 games

-Kentucky is 5-0 ATS at home this season

-Tennessee is 0-2 ATS and SU in away games this season

-Kentucky is 4-2 ATS in SEC games this season

-Tennessee is 3-2 ATS in SEC games this season

-The total has gone UNDER in 5 of Tennessee’s last 7 games

-The total has gone UNDER in Kentucky’s last 5 games

Expert Picks

Peter Fiutak of College Football News picked Kentucky to win 24-20, and he had this to say about the game:

It’s not just that Kentucky gets Tennessee at home. It’s that it’s had two weeks off to gear up and get ready for the finishing kick. This has been a banged up team that needed the break, and it’s going to show for a running game that will work from the start. The Vols have been playing much, much better, but Kentucky will go Kentucky and drag down the tempo and play this to its level.

Brad Crawford of 247Sports predicts a 27-24 victory for the Volunteers, and here is why:

Another game that I pray you got at the right number when it opened, the Vols have since moved to a small favorite in this game at Commonwealth Stadium. This one is vital toward Tennessee’s bowl hopes and this team is playing with confidence over the last month. Kentucky has the coaching edge here, but I’ll take the Vols on the road in a competitive game. If Tennessee tackles well and doesn’t let Lynn Bowden get loose, Kentucky could struggle to score.

Both Michael Bratton and Chris Marler of Saturday Down South have picked Tennessee to win 20-17.

David Kenyon of Bleacher Report predicts Kentucky to win 28-21.

Prediction

By all accounts, the Kentucky Wildcats are fired up to avenge last season’s loss in Knoxville. They have also had two weeks to prepare for this match-up with the Volunteers. Sawyer Smith is healthy, Lynn Bowden looks like a machine, and the atmosphere at Kroger Field is sure to be rockin’.

All of those signs point to a Kentucky victory, but I just do not see it happening this season. Tennessee is clicking on all cylinders, and Kentucky is still relying on a gimmick offense as I’m sure Bowden will get the start over Smith. I know Kentucky has beaten Tennessee with a wide receiver taking snaps before, but I have a feeling that the Wildcats will lose in a heart breaker on Saturday.

Prediction: Tennessee 24, Kentucky 20