All signs point to Tennessee being pretty competitive against the Oregon Ducks (12:30 p.m. Saturday, Autzen Stadium).
The Volunteers have run the ball decently behind a big and experienced offensive line, and coughed up only two turnovers. The defense has forced nine turnovers, held two opponents (albeit Austin Peay, Western Kentucky) to a shade more than 300 yards per game, and features some size and speed on the defensive line.
It'll certainly be a test for the Ducks, who seem to need another test before the Pac-12 season schedule starts.
Outscoring Nicholls State and Virginia a combined 125-13 looks good on the face, but the Ducks have shown some flaws (cracks?) an inefficient passing game, stalled drives, penalties/discipline issues, some defensive holes. Again, they have struggled at times and still won handily, so we're critiquing somewhat differently here.
But, there are presumably tougher opponents upcoming. And, while the Ducks have talent and speed throughout the lineup, two players (not surprisingly) have proved themselves irreplaceable: QB Marcus Mariota and running back De'Anthony Thomas. The duo has practically carried the team in the first two games. Oregon cannot afford to lose either to injury.
If the Ducks show real growth Saturday cutting down on mistakes, making their offense and defense more efficient we could see a blowout win. If we don't see growth, I think we see indications that the Mark Helfrich-coached Ducks will be susceptible in the Pac-12 (which I think will happen anyway).
Oregon will win Saturday, because it has speed and talent and momentum, and while Tennessee has started down what looks to be a successful rebuilding road, the SEC's Volunteers won't have enough firepower to keep up with the Ducks. Their only chance would be to keep the ball away from Oregon using the run game, capitalize on scoring chances, not turn the ball over and get key stops otherwise known as the game plan to beat Oregon.
If the game were being played in Knoxville, I might be inclined to go with the Vols. It isn't, so the Vols won't win Saturday.
The pick: Oregon 42, Tennessee 24