Will the Vols cover against Kentucky?

Tennessee opened as a 2.5-point underdog to the Kentucky Wildcats this week, and since then it’s moved to Vols -1. So . . . will the Vols cover against Kentucky? Here’s what the GRT Statsy Preview Machine has to say and whether I think it’s right this week.

The SPM’s performance so far in 2019

The SPM rebounded this week with its second-best week of the season after a sub-50% Week 9. For the past five weeks, it’s done this: 56.52%, 55.10%, 63.93%, 45.45%, and 63.04%. The breakdown this week: 29-17 (63.04%), which is for all games. When the difference between the SPM spread and the Vegas spread was 9 or more (the “confidence threshold”), the SPM was 10-4 (71.43%), and when the difference was between 9 and 14 (the “confidence range”), the SPM was 8-3 (72.73%).

For the season, the SPM is now 252-234 (51.85%) overall, 109-84 (56.48%) over the confidence threshold, and 63-35 (64.29%) in the confidence range.

For the fourth week in a row, the SPM got the Tennessee game wrong, although we knew not to trust it. The SPM isn’t the only system whiffing on the Vols, though. As Will has pointed out several times in several places, even Vegas has been really wrong on the Tennessee all season long.

So what does the SPM have to say about the Tennessee-Kentucky game this week?

Vols-Wildcats

From the perspective of Tennessee

Tennessee’s points:

  • Tennessee scoring offense for the season: 24.7
  • Kentucky scoring defense for the season: 21.3

The Kentucky scoring defense is most similar to the following prior Tennessee opponent(s) (FBS only):

  • UAB 17.5
  • South Carolina 25

Tennessee scored 30 points against UAB and 41 points against South Carolina. That’s 167% of what those teams usually give up.

The SPM still doesn’t know who UAB really is, so I would normally be inclined to ignore the Blazers as a comp, but the South Carolina number by itself pretty much gives the same result. So . . . the SPM estimates 35.5 points for Tennessee against Kentucky.

Kentucky’s points:

  • Tennessee scoring defense for the season: 24.1
  • Kentucky scoring offense for the season: 21.3

The Kentucky scoring offense is most similar to the following prior Tennessee opponent(s):

  • BYU 25.5
  • UAB 27

UAB scored 7 on Tennessee and BYU scored 29. That’s 69% of what those teams usually score. Taken together, the SPM estimates 14.7 points for Kentucky against the Vols. This is probably low, as the SPM is still confused about who UAB really is.

Estimated score: Tennessee 35.5, Kentucky 14.7

From the perspective of Kentucky

Kentucky’s points:

  • Kentucky scoring offense for the season: 21.3
  • Tennessee scoring defense for the season: 24.1

The Tennessee scoring defense is most similar to the following prior Kentucky opponent(s) (FBS only):

  • South Carolina 25
  • Toledo 28

Kentucky scored 7 points against South Carolina and 38 against Toledo, which is 85% of what those teams usually give up. Thus, the SPM estimates 20.5 points for Kentucky against the Vols.

Tennessee’s points:

  • Kentucky scoring defense for the season: 21.3
  • Tennessee scoring offense for the season: 24.7

The Tennessee scoring offense is most similar to the following prior Kentucky opponent(s):

  • Eastern Michigan 26.2
  • Arkansas 22.7

Kentucky allowed 20 points to Arkansas and 17 to Eastern Michigan. That’s 76% of what those teams usually score, so the SPM estimates 18.8 points for Tennessee against Kentucky.

Estimated score: Kentucky 20.5, Tennessee 18.8

SPM Final Estimates

Throw it in, cook it up, take a peek:

SPM Final estimated score: Tennessee 27.1, Kentucky 17.6

SPM Final estimated spread: Tennessee -9.5

Difference between the SPM and the Vegas opening spread): 12

That spread difference of 12 is right in the sweet spot that would normally be in our favorite “confidence range.” But so far this season, the numbers have been outright defamatory when it comes to the Vols. So while the machine is confident, I remain skeptical both on the actual score estimate and even more so on the level of confidence it’s spitting out.

Eyeball adjustments

I’m mostly comfortable with the comps for the Vols points from their perspective. As I said, I wouldn’t trust UAB as a comp except that the South Carolina comp says the same thing. The SPM’s only giving the Vols 19 points from Kentucky’s perspective, but I trust the South Carolina comp more than Kentucky’s results against Arkansas and Eastern Michigan. Still, 35 points seems high, especially since there were two special teams scores against the Gamecocks, so I’m thinking more like 28.

I don’t like Kentucky’s points from Tennessee’s perspective, as the number resulting from the UAB comp (26%) is too low, but the number resulting from the BYU comp (114%) is too high. I like the comps from Kentucky’s perspective better, as they include common opponent South Carolina, so I’m going with 21 points for the Wildcats.

So, my eyeball-adjusted prediction is Tennessee 28, Kentucky 21. Yeah, I like the Vols to win outright and cover. Am I confident about this? Nope.

Other predictions from other systems

As I said before, the Vols opened as 2.5-point underdogs but are now one-point favorites. With an over/under of 41, that translates to something like Tennessee 21, Kentucky 20.

ESPN’s FPI gives the Vols a 42.8% chance of winning.

Bill Connelly’s SP+ likes the Vols 25-23, and gives them a 55% chance of winning. That’s picking the Vols to cover.

SP+ finished 25-21-1 (54%) last week and is still at 55% for the season.

As I said earlier, the SPM is now 252-234 (51.85%) overall for the season and 63-35 (64.29%) in the confidence range.

Bottom line

The SPM and I both like the Vols to win and cover against Kentucky this week.

What do y’all think?

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Harper MooneyPeteJoel Hollingsworth Recent comment authors
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Pete
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Pete

I expect a straight up win and I don’t think it will be just a 1 point squeaker, so I think we cover. Kentucky’s defense is pretty solid but the Vols QBs (even JG) have shown an ability to find Jennings, Calloway and a very solid Palmer. Kentucky cannot pass downfield so if we load the box with 8 and dare them to throw, we should be able to stop their prolific run game. If we try to play a standard defense and get manhandled by Kentucky’s OL, we may well lose the game.

Harper Mooney
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Harper Mooney

I think this will go down to the 4th quarter. The Vols have as much momentum as any team in college football right now. Nobody is sure who the Ky quarterback is gong to be… TN 28 -24