Tomorrow, Kentucky will attempt to do something it hasn’t done since 1984: beat Tennessee in Neyland Stadium. Here’s a roundup of national picks for the game to help you count down the hours ’til kickoff.
Kentucky has never been in this situation before, competing in a game after losing the de facto SEC East championship game. Leaders like linebacker Josh Allen, running back Benny Snell and the rest of the veteran Wildcats have to make sure the entire roster knows that the first New Year’s Six Bowl in program history is staring them straight in the face. Meanwhile, the Vols sit at 4-5 and would love to notch this one to make a bowl game in coach Jeremy Pruitt’s first year more attainable. The running game will get going, Allen will have a big game against a fragile Tennessee offensive line and Kentucky will ugly its way to a double-digit win. Pick: Kentucky (-6)
Chris Hummer: I’ll happily take Kentucky here. The Wildcats have trouble scoring (99th in PPG), but Tennessee really has trouble scoring (102nd in ppg). Kentucky’s defense, despite a bit of trouble against Georgia, travels. Expect the Wildcats to bounce back, securing the program’s first eight-win effort since 2007 … Kentucky 21, Tennessee 14.
Brad Crawford: Here’s the Vegas oddsmakers’ not-so-fast of the week. The Wildcats are favored at Neyland for the first time ever and they’re coming off a tough loss to Georgia that squandered an SEC East title opportunity. I want to lean Vols in an upset here since that line scares me, but there’s no way Tennessee will be able to keep quarterback Jarrett Guarantano upright against the second-best pass rush it has faced all season. Kentucky ugly … Kentucky 16, Tennessee 10.
It’s up to Kentucky to establish itself after missing its shot against Georgia last week. The Volunteers have two more opportunities to win their first SEC home game under Jeremy Pruitt, and this is the spot to do it. We’ll call a mild upset and make the Wildcats prove it. Tennessee wins 24-21 in an UPSET.
This has all the makings of a “trap game” for Kentucky after last week’s monumental let down. History isn’t exactly on the Wildcats’ side either, given their poor track record against the Vols in Knoxville. But there is a reason why the Wildcats are favored by six points on Saturday. Last week notwithstanding, the Kentucky defense has proven itself to be elite. And the Wildcats have a running back in Benny Snell Jr. capable of wearing down an undermanned Tennessee defense that has been wildly inconsistent all season. The Vols should put up a good fight, but a superior Kentucky team will rebound with its first win in Neyland Stadium in 34 years.
Prediction: Kentucky 20, Tennessee 16
ESPN Football Power Index: Kentucky