We at InsideTennessee love a good debate. That's why we think you'll enjoy Devil's Advocate. Each week one staffer presents evidence why Tennessee will win/beat the spread, while another staffer offers a spirited rebuttal on behalf of the opposing team.
Here are this week's arguments:
By Randy Moore
There are plenty of reasons why Tennessee might struggle in Game 4 Saturday versus Buffalo: The Vols are coming off their annual loss to Florida. The Vols are looking ahead to Game 5 versus Georgia. The Vols are grieving the loss of superstar wideout Justin Hunter. The Vols are one-dimensional due to a stalled run game. The Vols are wildly erratic on special teams.
All of those points would be valid except for two words: Bye week. Tennessee has had two weeks to put the loss at Florida in the rear-view mirror. Tennessee has had two weeks to refocus on Buffalo. Tennessee has had two weeks to adjust — emotionally and schematically — to the loss of Hunter. Tennessee has had two weeks to work on its ground attack. Tennessee has had two weeks to shore up its special teams' play.
You can't fix everything that went wrong in Game 3 at Florida in two weeks but you can fix enough to handle Buffalo, whose only victory in a 1-3 start this fall came at the hands of Stony Brook from the Football Championship Subdivision. (Yeah, I never heard of Stony Brook, either.)
Filling the Vol void at wide receiver will be junior Zach Rogers. He won't make fans forget Justin Hunter but he'll make them remember older brother Austin Rogers, who posted 56 catches as a junior for the 2007 Vols. The loss of Hunter will be felt at times this season but Saturday won't be one of those times.
After two weeks spent hearing how bad they are, tailback Tauren Poole and Tennessee's offensive linemen will be looking for some vindication vs. Buffalo. I'm guessing they find it, since the Bulls allowed 231 rushing yards in their only previous game against a "name" opponent, Pitt.
As for special teams, Tennessee's return game will get a huge boost from the belated debut of flashy freshman Devrin Young, who should exploit Bulls' coverage units that allow 27.6 yards per kickoff return and 10.5 yards per punt return. For the sake of comparison, Tennessee allows 17.9 yards per kickoff return and 5.8 per punt return.
The uninspired Vols won't play their best vs. Buffalo but they won't need to. This performance won't be pretty but it will be enough to win handily.
By Danny Parker
After winning the Mid-American Conference championship in 2008, knocking off previously undefeated Ball State, Buffalo has fallen on tough times by losing 13 of its next 16 games.
The Bull defense is surrendering less than 22 points per game and is led by future NFL outside linebacker Khalil Mack, who has logged 1.5 tackles for loss or more in each of their first four games this season to go with three forced fumbles. Senior defensive end Gordon DuBois has a sack in each of the last two games as well.
The Tennessee offense wasn't exactly clicking on all cylinders its last time out as it lost its top playmaker in Justin Hunter, quarterback Tyler Bray forced nearly a half dozen passes into the hands of Gator defensive backs, center James Stone snapped like he's actually left-handed (oh…wait) and the running game netted minus-9 yards.
Thus, Mack, DuBois & Co. have to be licking their chops at he possibility of shutting down a Southeastern Conference school and its 80,000 fans.
The Vols' special teams units aren't exactly deadly either. They don't appear to be in field-goal range until they get to the opposition's 20-yard line. When Florida's best football player lined up to block a punt, Roger Dorn showed up to get a hand on Chris Rainey and … failed miserably. Oh, and the Big Orange hasn't taken a punt back for a touchdown since Derek Dooley was the running backs coach at LSU.
When Buffalo has the football, it is likely to throw it early and often to wide receiver Marcus Rivers. The senior leads his team and ranks third in the MAC in receptions with 26.
When it comes time to ice the game, head coach Jeff Quinn will hand it to Branden Oliver, who is the country's 18th leading rusher with 442 yards. By comparison, Tennessee has netted a grand total of 245 yards.
The Vols are a perfect 7-0 against current MAC members ... first time for everything.