Some nuggets aren't golden

Most observers figured Tennessee's 2009 football team would be a clearcut underdog in SEC road games at Florida, Alabama and Ole Miss and a modest underdog at home to Georgia.

Well, that's pretty much the way the folks at the Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas see it, too. They've listed preseason betting lines for seven UT games, with the Vols being slight favorites in three, slight underdogs in one and decided 'dogs in the other three.

Here's a look at those seven games with commentary provided by yours truly:

Sept. 12 - Tennessee minus-3 vs. UCLA: That's understandable. The Vols lost by 3 in overtime last year at Pasadena, so the oddsmakers see a six-point swing with the rematch being played in Neyland Stadium. Frankly, I believe the Vols have come a lot farther since last September than the Bruins have, and I think UT minus-8 would be a more accurate line.

Sept. 19 - Tennessee plus-27 at Florida: It's hard to argue with this one. Florida won by 24 last season in Knoxville (30-6) and by 39 in Gainesville (59-20) the year before. Until Tennessee narrows the talent gap, it's hard to see this series being competitive.

Oct. 3 - Tennessee minus-6 vs. Auburn: This makes sense, too. The Vols gave one of the worst offensive performances in program history last fall on The Plains and still should've won the game. Tennessee ought to avenge last year's 14-12 loss, even though new coordinator Gus Malzahn will have the Tiger offense performing on a much higher plain (pun intended) than last fall.

Oct. 10 - Tennesssee plus-3 1/2 vs. Georgia: Again, the oddsmakers have done their homework. Joe Cox is no Matthew Stafford but he's a solid quarterback with a veteran offensive line and a brilliant go-to receiver (A.J. Green). The Dawgs won 26-14 last fall in Athens and project as a slight favorite for this year's game in Knoxville.

Oct. 24 - Tennessee plus-14 at Alabama: The Tide dominated the last two meetings, rolling 29-9 at Knoxville in 2008 and 41-17 at Tuscaloosa in 2007. Still, the departure of a 1,000-yard rusher (Glen Coffee), a proven quarterback (John Parker Wilson) and two outstanding offensive linemen (Andre Smith, Antoine Caldwell) leaves the 2009 Bama offense a bit suspect. Frankly, I think a 10-point line would be a lot more accurate.

Nov. 14 - Tennessee plus-13 at Ole Miss: These teams didn't meet last year, so projecting this game is particularly hazardous. The Rebels return a superior quarterback (Jevan Snead) but will miss first-round NFL Draft picks Michael Oher and Peria Jerry. I like Ole Miss to win the West but I'd put this line at no more than plus-8.

Nov. 28 - Tennessee minus 1 1/2 at Kentucky: The folks at the Golden Nugget clearly need a history lesson. The Vols fielded their worst team in two decades last fall but still whipped the Big Blue 28-10, pushing their winning streak in the series to 24 games. Even at Commonwealth Stadium Tennessee should be favored by 6 points.


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