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RTI Game Predictions: Tennessee vs. Virginia

Tennessee Highlights
Tennessee WR Squirrel White showing off his end zone celebration during the 2022 Capital One Orange Bowl. Photo by Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics.

Tennessee football opens up its 2023 season Saturday as the Vols meet Virginia at Nissan Stadium in Nashville. The Vols are 28-point favorites over the Cavaliers and are expected to earn a lopsided victory.

Each week, the RTI team will provide game predictions for Tennessee’s weekly opponent.

We start with the Virginia Cavaliers.
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Jack Foster

It will finally be football time in Tennessee at Noon this Saturday.

There’s always a ton of excitement surrounding the first game. There should be. But there shouldn’t be a lot of excitement about the competitiveness of the game. The Vols are going to roll Virginia.

The Cavaliers are not your average non-conference opponent. Along with Cal, Stanford and Northwestern, Virginia will be among the worst teams in the Power Five this season.

For a Tennessee team that still has some lingering questions at offensive line and secondary and a quarterback that hasn’t started many games in orange, the Vols can iron out some things in Week One.

The ironing will happen, but any ebbs Tennessee experiences won’t show up on the scoreboard. Virginia’s offense will have a very difficult time moving the ball. Their defense has some talent, but their best player in defensive end Chico Bennett is out.

The important things to watch for in this game are how Tennessee’s offensive line looks, especially if Cooper Mays is out, what the rotation is like in the secondary, and how playing time is distributed among the top four wide receivers.

Tennessee rolls Virginia in an uncompetitive start to the season.

Prediction: Tennessee 52, Virginia 14

Ric Butler

Tennessee will win the first game of the season. Not a prediction but a spoiler.

Football is back! It’s an exciting time in Knoxville – well, Nashville – as the 2023 season opens up with a unique game, as Josh Heupel himself said on Thursday. The Vols will take on Virginia, a team that has not played since Nov. 12 after canceling the final two games of their season due to a terrible tragedy. Emotions will run high and Tennessee will honor Virginia during the game, but it won’t provide much of an impact on the result.

This is a great tune-up game for a Tennessee team that is projecting to have several transfer players either making a start for the Vols or will at least find rotational playing time early in the game. That includes LB Keenan Pili, CB Gabe Jeudy-Lally, OT John Campbell Jr., WR Dont’e Thornton, and more. It’s also an important time for quarterback Joe Milton III to reassert himself as Tennessee’s definitive backbone for the season following two wins to close out 2022.

I don’t project Virginia to provide much of a challenge to Tennessee, but the more interesting matchup with be with the Cavs’ defense against the Vols’ offense. Virginia was bad offensively last year and is looking to a handful of transfers for more production while the defense does have a few solid pieces, especially up in the front seven.

I expect to see a lot of players rotating in for Tennessee while rolling to a win. I also expect to see quite a few happy Tennessee fans on Broadway following the game.

Prediction: Tennessee 48, Virginia 10

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Ryan Schumpert

At long last, football season is here.

While Tennessee’s premier non conference matchup being against Virginia is boring this makes for a great opener for the Vols. On ABC they’ll attract a national audience while getting a better test than they got in openers against Bowling Green and Ball State in each of Josh Heupel’s first two seasons.

But make no bones about it, Virginia is not equipped to give Tennessee a competitive game. The Cavaliers were dreadful last season and lost some of their best players to the transfer portal. Entering the season, the Cavaliers look like one of the worst power five teams in the country. Even if Virginia takes a major step in Tony Elliott’s second season they shouldn’t have enough to upset Tennessee.

Another thing that makes this opener intriguing is that Virginia’s strength is its defense. While the Cavaliers don’t have enough to give Tennessee a true challenge, their defense has enough talent to not be a layover against Josh Heupel’s offense. That provides an elevated test for a Tennessee offense breaking in a new quarterback, multiple new offensive linemen and a handful of receivers stepping into a bigger role (or making their Tennessee debut in Dont’e Thornton’s case).

I predict Milton and Tennessee’s offense gets off to a strong start to the season and the Vols’ defense overwhelms Virginia with its size and athleticism. Tennessee cruises in the opener.

Prediction: Tennessee 48, Virginia 14

Matt Reed

You never want to be too cocky going into a season opener, but it is hard finding areas of concern against this Virginia football team. The Cavaliers will have an FCS-transfer at quarterback, playing behind an inexperienced offensive line, and without their top four pass catchers from last season. This was not a prolific offense last season with an experienced roster, so while Virginia may see gradual growth over the course of a season, I think they will really struggle against Tennessee’s defense on Saturday.

I expect Tennessee to control Virginia’s ground game, and force Tony Muskett into uncomfortable third and longs. While I expect Virginia to move the ball at times on Tennessee, I do expect the Vols to pick up where they left off in 2022. Tim Banks’ defense was very good in the red zone (3rd in the SEC) and was superb at creating turnovers (2nd in the SEC). Offensively I think you will see some rust early on mostly due to a shuffled offensive line. Virginia has some players on defense, and expect the Cavaliers to be plenty motivated to start.

Tennessee’s pace and talent will wear down this Virginia defense though. Again, I am not sure how much I would read into it given the opponent but I think Tennessee absolutely rolls on Saturday. Once this offense finds its stride, the Vols will overwhelm an outmatched opponent.

Prediction: Tennessee 45, Virginia 13

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