#12 Tennessee enters this year with plenty of momentum after notching 11 wins for the first time since 2001. They kick off the 2023 season against unranked Virginia, who finished with a disappointing 3-7 record.
Can the rebuilding Cavaliers pull off a shocking upset? Check out below for Virginia vs. Tennessee odds, picks, and predictions.
Virginia vs. Tennessee Prediction & Best Bet
I expect Virginia to wade through an extremely slow start due to extensive roster turnover. They lost their starting quarterback, every wide receiver who recorded at least 200 receiving yards, and 80% of their offensive line. Monmouth transfer quarterback Tony Muskett has shown promising accuracy and an ability to scramble, but the deck is stacked against him here. Not only is he facing a talented SEC defense, but he must do so with a new system, negligible chemistry, underwhelming weapons, and a porous offensive line.
Virginia’s defense lost irreplaceable pieces too. Veteran linebacker Nick Jackson led the team in tackles, run play stops, and pass rush win percentage while ranking second in sacks (per PFF). In addition, Virginia’s vaunted pass coverage sustained a major blow with the departures of elite cornerbacks Fentrell Cypress II and Anthony Johnson. To make matters worse, top pass rusher Chico Bennett Jr (8 sacks) is out due to injury.
Tennessee’s offense should demolish Virginia as a result regardless of the Volunteers’ own departures (Hendon Hooker, Jalin Hyatt, Cedric Tillman, Darnell Wright, etc.). Quarterback Joe Milton possesses an absolute cannon for an arm, but he’s also a dangerous scrambler with the frame to absorb hits. Milton shredded Clemson in last year’s Orange Bowl to the tune of 251 yards and 3 touchdowns on 19/28 passing.
He has a variety of weapons at his disposal that should create separation with ease against these inexperienced Virginia corners. Plus, Tennessee’s running back room features a dynamic duo in Jaylen Wright (875 yds, 10 td) and Jabari Small (734 yds, 13 td). Finally, the Volunteers brought in key offensive line transfers to shore up their blocking, so the unit should hold their own and provide Milton enough time to throw downfield.
Overall, Tennessee’s talent and chemistry advantage is too much for this rebuilding Virginia squad. Look for this matchup to get out of hand quickly.
Best Bet: 1st Quarter Tennessee -6.5 (-146 FD) & Tennessee -27.5 (-110 FD)
Virginia vs. Tennessee Odds
Tennessee is favored by nearly four touchdowns here. Based on the implied probability, they must cover 52.4% of the time for a bet on them to be profitable in the long run.
The over under sits at just over eight touchdowns. It’s worth noting that the over has hit in eight of the past nine Tennessee games. However, the under has hit in 15 of Virginia’s past 22 games.
Virginia vs. Tennessee Key Matchups
Tennessee DLine vs. Virginia OLine
When quarterback Tony Muskett has time to throw, he can drive the ball. On deep throws (20+ yards) for Monmouth last season, Muskett notched 17 Big Time Throws compared to only 2 Turnover Worthy Plays (per PFF). He also thrived as a play action passer.
However, he struggles mightily when under pressure – more than the average quarterback. It’s essential that Virginia’s unreliable offensive line grants him enough time to find an open man. Unfortunately for Virginia, that doesn’t seem likely. Their weak offensive line faces a solid Tennessee defensive line. Tyler Baron and Roman Harrison both cleared a pass rush win percentage of 10% and have the ability to wreak havoc all night. Look for the Volunteers to win the trenches and take Muskett out of his comfort zone.
Squirrel White vs. Virginia Safeties
Quarterback Joe Milton loves to air it out, which perfectly complements receiver Squirrel White’s speed. Virginia’s corners will likely struggle to hang with White, so the Cavaliers must provide safety help and neutralize the go route. Otherwise, Tennessee will strike swiftly and ferociously with a Milton bomb.