MUSIC CITY BOWL: NEBRASKA CORNHUSKERS VS. TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS (-6, O/U 59), Fri., 3:30 p.m. ET
Tennessee and Nebraska head into the Music City Bowl coming off sour ends to their regular seasons, but hoping end them on a sweeter note.
The Volunteers (8-4) were one of the biggest disappointments in the country among major-conference teams. They returned the core of a roster that finished strong last year, and were a trendy pick to contend for the SEC title and a potential playoff berth behind electric dual-threat quarterback Joshua Dobbs.
Tennessee survived a handful of close calls to start a 5-0, but an overtime loss to Texas A&M spawned a three-game losing streak. The Volunteers finished their season with a 45-34 road loss to offense-challenged Vanderbilt.
Nebraska (9-3) avoided a repeat of the disastrous five-win campaign in Mike Riley's first season, but this was expected with an experienced roster against a feather-light schedule.
But the Cornhuskers proved their 7-0 start was basically the mirage it appeared to be with losses in three of their last five, including a 62-3 at Ohio State and 40-10 at Iowa in the regular-season finale.
JOSH NAGEL'S TAKE
Injuries and motivational factors could play a role on both sides, as Tennessee lived up to its reputation under coach Butch Jones as a mentally fragile club that had a handful of no-shows once its SEC title hopes were vanquished.
The Cornhuskers showed improvement from last year but showed they were still a step below the upper-tier of the Big 10 on their losses to Wisconsin, Ohio State and Iowa.
The bigger concern for them is the injury status of quarterback Tommy Armstrong, who has a lingering hamstring injury.
Riley said Monday that Armstrong hasn't practiced and he anticipates the game will be started by backup Ryker Fyfe, who who threw for 220 yards and a touchdown in a 28-7 win over Maryland.
Nebraska is also without top receiver Jordan Westerkamp and safety Nate Gerry because of injuries.
This spread opened at Tennessee -3 or -3.5 in most markets before the news of Armstrong?s probable absence caused a steam on the favorite.
The number reached as high as -7 in some markets, before settling in at the universal number of -6 as of Tuesday afternoon.
The total opened as high as 61 in some spots, but has been lowered to the current consensus number of 59.
On Thursday afternoon, the line had risen to Tennessee -6.5, while the total dropped another point to 58. The money line was UT -270 after an open of -160.
SportsLine data scientist Stephen Oh has an ATS selection for this game. Get this and all other SportsLine expert picks by clicking here.
This is a difficult selection because of a variety of factors. Dobbs told the media Monday the Vols were "focused and motivated" for the bowl game, but their performance will tell the story.
Also, Armstrong was similarly listed as doubtful for the Iowa game but ended up starting anyway. However, he completed just 13 of 35 passes in the blowout loss. Even so, Nebraska likely stands a better competitive chance if he is in the game.
Still, if Tennessee does come motivated, it has a talent level comparable with all the clubs that have beaten Nebraska, which compiled the majority of its wins pounding on the also-rans of the Big 10.
I'd only have the favorite here, but not with a ton of conviction.