Tennessee vs. Indiana: Gator Bowl preview and picks against the spread

Tennessee (7-5) vs. Indiana (8-4)

Location: Jacksonville | When: Jan. 2 (7 p.m. ET) | TV: ESPN | Line: Tennessee -1.5

HOW THESE TEAMS GOT HERE

Tennessee: The first six games of the season were nothing like the final six games of the season for the Vols. Tennessee started 2-4 with losses to to Georgia State and BYU to start the season. If Tennessee couldn’t beat Georgia State and couldn’t cover at the end of the game against BYU, how would the Vols do against the rest of the SEC?

Pretty well, it turns out. UT got Georgia and Florida in that 2-4 start. The only ranked opponent the Vols had to play in the back half of the season was Alabama. That was a loss, of course. But it was the only loss in the final six games as Tennessee won five straight to close out the season. 

Indiana quarterback Peyton Ramsey has been the team's primary QB for the second half of the season with Michael Penix injured. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Indiana: The Hoosiers got people to pay attention during a four-game winning streak in the middle of the season. Indiana started the season 3-2 with losses to Ohio State and Michigan State on the ledger.

Then came the streak, with wins over Rutgers, Maryland, Nebraska and Northwestern. Yeah, those four teams were hardly some of the most intimidating in the Big Ten and the whole of college football. But it got Indiana to 7-2 and put the Hoosiers in the AP top 25 ahead of a home game with Penn State.

That turned out to be a loss, as did the next week’s game against Michigan. But Indiana ended the season with a win over Purdue.

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH

This could be one of the most evenly matched games of bowl season. And it involves two teams thrilled to be playing on Jan. 2. Indiana is going for a historic season while Tennessee can complete one of the more remarkable midseason turnarounds of the year.

Tennessee wide receiver Marquez Callaway is averaging over 20 yards a catch. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Tennessee WR Marquez Callaway: Callaway’s stats aren’t going to jump off the page. He has just 29 catches and six touchdowns. But those 29 catches have gone for 616 yards and he topped 100 yards receiving in three of the five games during Tennessee’s season-ending win streak. If he has over 100 yards receiving on Thursday then the Vols have a very good chance of leaving Jacksonville with a win. 

Indiana QB Peyton Ramsey: Ramsey split time with Michael Penix to start 2019, but Penix has missed the final half of the season with a right shoulder injury. That’s left Ramsey as the team’s primary QB. 

Ramsey has completed 69 percent of his passes and thrown 13 touchdowns and four interceptions on 184-of-266 passing for 2,227 yards. He’s also scored six rushing touchdowns

NFL DRAFT PROSPECT

Tennessee WR Jauan Jennings: We’ve been fascinated with Jennings’ long and winding road to this point where he’s turned himself into an intriguing NFL prospect. It hasn’t always been easy, as Jennings was dismissed, readmitted, dealt with wrist and knee injuries and, yes, was suspended for the first half of this game for stepping on the face of Vanderbilt punt returner Justice Shelton-Mosley during a sideline incident in the last game. So that means we don’t get Jennings until the second half of this game, where he’ll try to unleash his rare toughness and big frame (6-foot-3, 208 pounds) against a very young but fairly talented Hoosier secondary.

— Eric Edholm

WHAT’S ON THE LINE

Tennessee: This game is the first bowl appearance for Jeremy Pruitt as a head coach and Tennessee’s first bowl game since 2016. And did you know the Vols have won three straight bowl games? The last bowl loss came in 2010 when UT lost the Music City Bowl. 

Indiana: It’s already been a remarkable season for the Hoosiers. Indiana has won eight games for the first time since 1993. A win means Indiana has a nine-win season for the first time since 1967 and a bowl win for the first time since the 1991 Copper Bowl. Yes, it’s been 28 years since Indiana won a bowl game. 

PICKS

Nick Bromberg: Indiana +1.5

Sam Cooper: Tennessee -1.5

Picks from the Yahoo Sports College Podcast

Pat Forde: Tennessee -1.5

Pete Thamel: Indiana +1.5

Dan Wetzel: Indiana +1.5

Sean Sullivan: Tennessee -1.5

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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.

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