This year's Music City Bowl features a game I would rather see on the hardwood than the gridiron -- North Carolina (7-5) and Tennessee (6-6) meet on Thursday, Dec. 30 at 6:30 p.m. EST in Nashville.
Surprisingly, the two programs haven't played each other since 1961. They were supposed to play twice the next two years but Tennessee dropped UNC from their schedule to make things easier for them. Tennessee fans weren't happy about the move (or almost anything else about their program the last couple of years, really), so now they get their chance to see the pairing.
The records suggest that this could be a pretty ugly game. However, the records only tell part of the story. Neither of these teams is in a great place, so it's hard to be confident about what exactly we will witness in this one.
Matt Simms, son of Phil, brother of Chris, started the season at quarterback for the Vols. His 2-6 start was a clear sign that he isn't quite ready to follow in the family footsteps. Freshman Tyler Bray took over, and he has made all the difference. The team has won four straight under Bray, and are responding with much more swagger and confidence than they ever did under Simms. They still aren't a great offense, but they averaged 37.5 points per game under Bray.
North Carolina's season has been an utter disgrace. The only thing saving them from continued close attention is Cam Newton's father. You know the story by now; four key starters are permanently ineligible because they took gifts from an agent. A couple more key players are hurt. This is a team in disarray. They are also a team with a very underwhelming offense - just the 78th-best in the country.
The news isn't all bad, though, they match up against a middle-of-the-pack defense, so it won't be as hard for them to score as it could be. However, the Tennessee defense is gaining steam; their opponents scored 14 points or less in each of the last four games of the season.
Music City Bowl College Football Spreads - North Carolina vs. Tennessee
North Carolina opened as two-point favorites, according to college bowl game odds, but that line has dropped to 1.5 points since. Tennessee is drawing a solid majority of the bets, so the line movement isn't surprising. The total is reasonably solid at 50.
North Carolina vs. Tennessee Betting Trends
Tennessee has gone 'over' the total in 11 of their last 14 games, and in their last six nonconference games. The 'under' is 5-1 in North Carolina's last six, and 6-1 in their last seven as favorites.
Tennessee has covered their last five games, and is 6-0-1 ATS in their last seven as underdogs of a field goal or less.
North Carolina is 1-5 ATS in their last six games, but 4-0 ATS in their last four against the SEC, and 4-1 ATS in their last five nonconference games.
Music City Bowl Predictions and Betting Picks
It has to be Tennessee. They always draw a lot of support when they play anywhere in Tennessee, and this game will be no exception -- the game is sold out, and the stands will be heavily orange. This is a young team that is gaining confidence under a talented new coach, and the practice time before this game is only going to help.
North Carolina probably has a bit more talent, but they are going to have real motivation issues here -- at this point why should the players care after all they have been through this year. Bray will lead his team to the endzone, and if it becomes a shootout -- which it could given North Carolina's defensive absences -- the Tar Heels don't have enough to answer. Tennessee is essentially playing a home game, so I'm happy to take a home underdog.