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
Middle Tennessee couldn't stop Georgia Tech (49-21 loss), Louisiana (45-20 loss), Troy (38-35 loss) or Western Kentucky (36-33 loss), so it's unlikely that MTSU can stop Tennessee Saturday night at Neyland Stadium.
The Blue Raiders may not have to, though. You see, the Vols do a bang-up job of stopping themselves.
In last Saturday's 14-3 loss to South Carolina they failed to score on a first-and-goal at the Gamecock 2-yard line. They threw an interception on the first play after recovering a fumble at the Carolina 28-yard line. They drew consecutive false-start penalties after electing to go for it on fourth-and-one at SC's 20-yard line, then missed the field goal. They dropped a 44-yard touchdown pass. They failed on a fourth-and-inches sneak at their own 44-yard line and failed on a fourth-and-one pass attempt at Carolina's 27-yard line.
That's enough mistakes to lose three ball games right there.
Will things be better this week? Not necessarily. Freshman quarterback Justin Worley was pulled in the fourth quarter of his starting debut last weekend, so his confidence may be a little shaky. Backup Matt Simms has lost his job to a freshman two years in a row, so you know his confidence level is low.
Tennessee at least had a semblance of a running attack with Simms running the attack. The Vols managed just 35 net yards on 21 carries in Worley's start.
As for the Big Orange defense, it will be challenged Saturday night by MTSU's hurry-up offense. Against two previous uptempo attacks Tennessee surrendered 447 yards in a 48-13 loss to Oregon in 2010 and surrendered 346 yards in a 42-16 defeat of Montana, a Football Championship Subdivision team, earlier this year. That's not a good omen.
Do I even need to mention how erratic Tennessee's special teams have been?
By Danny Parker
The last thing Tennessee wants to do is get into a shootout with their brothers to the west. That is certainly possible given the inconsistencies of its own offense, the ability to stay on the field and the visitors' multi-dimensional attack that is scoring 29.9 points per game.
Look for Vol offensive coordinator Jim Chaney to feature a game plan centered around the running game. It's time for the Big Orange to start pushing some people around and hitting the holes with passion and a welcomed desire for contact.
The more the chains move, the more the clock ticks and the fewer chances Middle Tennessee has to gets its uptempo attack flowing.
While yet another starter — strong safety Brent Brewer (knee) — will be out due to injury, the Vols welcome the return of outside linebacker Curt Maggitt and cornerback Justin Coleman back to the lineup. While two freshmen have shown flashes of what's to come, they both contribute to the notion that it may be time to expect these teenagers to start to turn the corner.
As coach Derek Dooley initially started noting just prior to the team's trip to Gainesville, Fla., the rookies and second-year players continued to lack much of any sort of "scars." While they picked up some that afternoon in a 10-point loss to the Gators, the team has accumulated an infinite amount since then after playing three straight opponents — Alabama, LSU and South Carolina — who have a combined one loss.
An unheard seven true freshmen — Coleman, Maggitt, guard Marcus Jackson, outside linebacker A.J. Johnson, free safety Brian Randolph, quarterback Justin Worley and kick/punt returner Devrin Young — are likely to be in the starting lineup. Does that group show signs of hitting the wall or display maturity and growth since they've been accumulating "scars" for a few months now?
Depending on how deep their teams went in the postseason, a vast portion of the freshmen are likely embarking on a full month of football in November for the first time in their lives.
The "grind" can get to even the best conditioned athletes. How the green horns play against the Blue Raiders should show Big Orange Country plenty of signs of what's ahead in the closing weeks.
If Tennessee's upperclassmen can captain the ship and help their younger brothers pull through, then the Vols should topple over another piece to get them bowl eligible, which is vital to the future of this team.