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Prediction Panel: Tennessee at No. 4 Oklahoma

Justin Worley-1-4

Daniel’s Pick: As I’ve said when Tennessee was the favorite in the opening two weeks of the season, anything can happen in college football. I see a scenario where Tennessee goes to Norman unintimidated, gets a couple breaks, plays at 2013 South Carolina/Georgia level and has a shot. But there are a lot of implied “ifs” in that scenario. The smart bet is that Oklahoma takes care of business on Saturday night and that’s what I’m going with.

If this were a 7-on-7 matchup, I’d give Tennessee a significantly better shot, but college football is often decided in the trenches, and I think Oklahoma has a noticeable edge on both sides of the ball in that regard. Tennessee talked about how athleticism, effort and leverage will help its defensive front neutralize a larger Oklahoma offensive line. That could happen some. But I’ll take the size and experience that the Sooners have there. And, reality is, Tennessee’s offensive line just isn’t that good. It’s something the Vols will have to work around all season and teams like Oklahoma – equipped with multiple pass-rushing threats – are going to give it a really hard time. I think that disrupts the passing game enough that UT won’t be able to get that going consistently. The Vols will show some promise and leave Norman feeling much better than they did last year at Oregon, but they won’t stick with the Sooners for four quarters. Pick: Oklahoma 37-14

MVP: Oklahoma LB Eric Striker

He’s one of the most unique defensive weapons in college football. Just ask Alabama. He recorded three sacks against the vaunted ‘Bama line in last year’s Sugar Bowl. He’s a nightmare matchup off the edge for Tennessee. And regardless which side they bring him off of, he could be matched up against likely left tackle Kyler Kerbyson, making his first start at that position or true freshman Coleman Thomas, potentially making his first start ever at right tackle.

Houston’s Pick: I’ve had a funny feeling all week that the Vols could have the opportunity to do something special tonight, but the odds will certainly be stacked against them. After going back and watching Oklahoma’s wins and losses from last year, it’s clear that if Tennessee wants to have any shot at a victory then they will need to make a big play early in the game to steal the momentum. Texas and Baylor – both losses for OU –  were able to create some momentum with their defense and hit some big plays early in the passing game on offense to stun the Sooners into perplexity in both games. Both teams used a balanced offensive attack and had great success on the ground and through the air against a very talented Sooner defense.

Can Tennessee have that type of success? We will certainly find out this evening. Tennessee has talent at key positions that will put some serious pressure on Oklahoma’s defensive secondary, but Oklahoma’s defensive front seven looks too talented to allow Worley much time to throw or Tennessee’s offensive line to get much push. I think Tennessee will score some points against OU, but I’m not sure that it will be enough.

Oklahoma’s offense has moved the ball with ease in it’s first two games with Quarterback Trevor Knight distributing the ball to his playmakers and the Sooners’ three-headed rushing attack of Keith Ford, Alex Ross and Samaje Perine carrying the load behind Oklahoma’s enormous offensive line. They are balanced and talented in the running game, but may not possess the type of talent at receiver that most are accustomed to when thinking of Oklahoma receiving corps of the past.

Tennessee is young, and most of these players are not accustomed to losing. If the Vols can get something good going early, then watch out. But, until I see it, I have to think the Sooners are just too much on their home field for a young Tennessee team this early in the season. Sooners pull away late. Pick: Oklahoma 38-21

MVP: Oklahoma’s Offensive Line

This Tennessee defense is fast and talented across the board, but their biggest weakness plays right into the hands of Oklahoma’s biggest strength. Oklahoma’s offensive line weighs a combined 1,629 pounds while Tennessee’s starting defensive line weighs 1,094 pounds. That will help Tennessee some in getting a pass rush, but look for Oklahoma to try to run the ball right at Tennessee’s defensive front all day and expect A.J. Johnson to have a bunch of tackles in the second level. Stoops knows where he has the advantage in this one and I suspect he’ll make sure to drive that point home all day.

Reed’s Pick: The Vols enter this one as a 21-point underdog, which is about right when you consider they’ve lost their last 10 road games to top-10 opponents by an average of 25.1 points per game. There’s no doubt the Vols have a big hill to climb. Oklahoma has the edge in experience and they just don’t lose home games under Bob Stoops.

BUT Tennessee won’t be as outmatched in this one as many think from a pure talent perspective. The Vols are the 14th most talented team in the country according to (which equally averages all the recruiting service rankings and accounts for attrition) while the Sooners come in at 11th in the same rankings. Tennessee won’t be significantly outclassed this evening.

The difference in this game will be the experience edge Oklahoma’s talent has. They’re cycled up, so to speak, while Tennessee’s best players are playing on the road for the first time.  The Vols have the horses to make this a game as long as they take care of the football and don’t get rattled, but Oklahoma’s experience at home should be enough to pull this one out late even if the Vols play solid football. Pick: Oklahoma 38-17

MVP: Oklahoma’s Front Seven

Oklahoma’s front-seven is a nightmare matchup for Tennessee’s patchwork offensive line. The Vols will have to get the ball out of Worley’s hand in under two seconds to keep him upright and I don’t see a scenario where UT’s ground game is even remotely effective in this game. Oklahoma’s ability to pressure Worley will allow their defensive backs to jump some of UT’s quick passes and could result in a couple of interceptions if the Vols aren’t careful. This matchup, more than any, is where the Vols are overmatched.

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