You’re the Tennessee Volunteers.
You’re a charter member of the powerful Southeastern Conference.
You’re one of the most tradition-rich football programs in America.
You’re one of only eight programs to boast 800 victories.
You’re outscoring your opponents 97-20 this fall and starting to regain what your head coach calls “Tennessee swagger.”
Still, you’re given zero chance in Saturday’s game at Oregon. The Las Vegas line opened at 20 points and has swelled to 27.5, meaning everyone is betting on your opponent, in spite of the hefty point spread.
Are you surprised? Yes. Are you insulted? Sure. Are you motivated to prove the “experts” wrong? Absolutely. In fact, if you’re Tennessee you probably have more chips on your shoulders than the Oregon Ducks have uniform combinations. That could provide added incentive for the Vols Saturday afternoon at Autzen Stadium.
“A lot,” senior linebacker Brent Brewer said. “We all know we can win, and we’re going to give it our all, try to come out with a victory.”
Senior center James Stone agrees, noting: “That’s a motivation, man, to go out there and work your hardest. Every time you step on the football field you have a chance to win, and every time we step on the football field we’re playing to win that football game.”
Tennessee’s No. 1 quarterback thinks the oddsmakers and the betting public have done the Vols a favor by telling them they cannot hang with the second-ranked Ducks.
“Hopefully, it’s a little motivation for us,” junior Justin Worley said. “Being 27-point underdogs is never a good thing. Hopefully, we can change that (perception of Tennessee) going into Saturday but we’ve just got to control what we can control.”
Of course, several Vols shrugged off the betting line as totally meaningless.
“I don’t read any of that stuff,” senior guard Zach Fulton said. “We just have to go out and execute our offense. That’s all.”
Junior receiver Jacob Carter agrees, noting that being a decided underdog “doesn’t mean a whole bunch. We’re taking it as it is. We were picked to lose (by several national sportscasters) against Western Kentucky. We don’t really expect much from the media … ESPN … but we don’t really pay much attention to it, either.”
Likewise, senior kicker/punter Michael Palardy couldn’t care less what oddsmakers or bettors think about Tennessee’s chances Saturday in Eugene.
“It doesn’t do anything (mentally),” he said. “We’ve got to play our game. We can’t play to everybody else’s expectations. We can’t play to how they think we’re going to play.”
Still, Palardy understands that the Vols are heavy underdogs for a reason: Oregon is one very impressive football team playing in an imposing venue.
“We’ve got to play the best football that we’ve ever played,” Palardy said. “We’re going into a pretty hostile environment and playing against a very good football team. We’re real excited but I think we’re good enough to go toe-to-toe with ‘em.”
Worley believes the lopsided betting line enables the Vols to relax a little, knowing the expectations are so low that there will be no problem meeting them.
“Yeah. I mean, it takes a little pressure off of us, I think,” he said. “We have expectations for ourselves, so as long as we meet our expectations it doesn’t really matter what other people think about us.”
Actually, it does matter. Facing the second-ranked team in America on national TV (ABC) gives the Vols a golden opportunity to make a statement that the entire college football world will hear.
“It would mean a lot,” Fulton said. “It would show we’ve come a long way and we’re making strides to be a better team.”
Worley concedes that Tennessee can take a step toward returning to national relevance with a strong showing against the Ducks, noting: “I think it can definitely shed some light on us and how we’ve progressed from last year to this year in our style of play and some different nuances we’re bringing to the table this year.”
Bottom line: Tennessee is about as confident as a 27-point underdog can be.
“Playing the No. 2 team in the country is a pretty big honor,” Palardy said. “Going into their house and playing them, we’re real excited. We think if we play our football it can turn out good for us.”
Brewer seems even more optimistic.
“Butch (Jones) grinded us all spring and all summer, so we’re ready,” he said. “We’re going to come out and surprise some people.”
The oddsmakers and bettors, in particular.
James Stone video interview