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USC-Tennessee prediction, forecast

My first couple of years on South Carolina beat, Lou Holtz’s teams would hang with Tennessee for most of the game until, inevitably, the Vols would put together a long drive – running between the tackles, taking about eight minutes off the clock and sticking a dagger in the Gamecocks’ upset hopes.

Not happening this year.

For starters, USC’s defense is too good. And – just as importantly – the Vols’ rushing offense is not good enough.

Talk to reporters who cover the Vols and they’ll tell you this is one of the worst running attacks – using that expression liberally – at Tennessee in the Phillip Fulmer era. And you know it’s just killing the former Vols’ lineman to see his front five fail to create much space for Arian Foster and the other backs.

For years, Fulmer has been the lumpy, orange-clad embodiment of smash-mouth football. But lately the Vols have been the ones getting smashed when they try to run the ball.

Of course, Tennessee can still run it better than the Gamecocks, who are last in the SEC in rushing offense – one spot behind the Vols. But USC can pitch it around pretty well when Stephen Garcia gets protection, which will not happen if the Gamecocks do not handle the blitz better than they did against LSU.

Both defenses are tough and physical, so I’m looking for another close, fairly low-scoring game. But I think the Gamecocks are better in nearly every area, and I don’t see them losing unless they start turning the ball over.

All of USC’s five SEC games have been decided by a touchdown. Not this one.

USC 23, Tennessee 14.