Greetings dear readers! I hope that you all had a very Merry Christmas and a happy New Year’s eve. Tennessee fans are hoping for one more gift this holiday season … and that’s a Gator Bowl win. The Fearless Prediction is back and better than ever, and like the Vols, we expect to close the 2019 campaign on an up note.

A win over the Indiana Hoosiers on Jan. 2 would be Tennessee’s 8th of the season, and would give Jeremy Pruitt a 13-12 overall mark as head coach. With a loss he’d be 12-13, the exact record Butch Jones had after his first 2 seasons in Knoxville.

For the Hoosiers, this game is a chance to prove that their 8-4 record wasn’t a mirage. Their 4 losses came against the 4 ranked opponents (Ohio State, Michigan State, Penn State, Michigan) they faced this season. Indiana’s 38-31 victory at Nebraska is probably what should be considered its best win, and the 5-7 Cornhuskers don’t look very much like those 1990s Big Red powerhouses.

The Hoosiers have shown multiple times this season that they can score, putting up at least 31 points 9 times. They have playmakers in quarterback Peyton Ramsey, running back Stevie Scott II, and wide receiver Whop Philyor. Ramsey has completed nearly 70 percent of his passes and thrown for 2,227 yards, along with 13 touchdowns. He’s also a threat to run, gaining 198 yards to go with 6 rushing touchdowns. Scott leads the Hoosiers with 845 rushing yards and 10 scores. If and when they run the ball, Scott is the guy. He has 108 more carries than his backup, true freshman Sampson James.

Indiana will throw the football more than they run it, so Tennessee will have to pay close attention to Philyor. He is the Hoosiers’ big-play threat, with 69 catches for 1,001 yards, an average of 14.5 yards per grab. Expect Vols sophomore cornerback Bryce Thompson to draw that assignment.

Tennessee’s offense will be without redshirt senior wide receiver Jauan Jennings for the 1st half of the Gator Bowl, as he serves a suspension for a sideline incident at the end of the Vols’ victory over Vanderbilt. The SEC is keeping Jennings off the field for the opening 30 minutes after they determined that he stepped on the face of a Commodores player after making a tackle during a punt return.

That suspension will make life more difficult for redshirt junior quarterback Jarrett Guarantano, who has experienced quite the career rebirth over the 2nd half of the season. Guarantano is probably never going to be one of the more accurate passers in the league. He completed 59% of his passes this season. But his leadership qualities, which were quite lacking for most of his Tennessee tenure, have become a positive.

Without Jennings for a couple of quarters, you might see the Vols emphasize the ground game more early. Tennessee running back Eric Gray, a true freshman, had a breakout game against Vanderbilt, with 246 yards rushing and 3 scores.

Indiana is trying to win its 9th game for the 3rd time in program history. That means a lot to a team that is only playing in its 12th bowl game. But if momentum carries over at this point, the Hoosiers and Vols are heading in opposite directions. Indiana has lost 2 of its past 3, with the lone win a double overtime victory over a less than mediocre Purdue team.

The Vols enter this postseason matchup with Indiana as one of the hottest teams in the SEC. They’ve won 6 of their past 7 games, and in a variety of ways as well. Tennessee has blown out opponents (South Carolina, UAB) and found ways to win in the final moments (Kentucky, Missouri). It’s been an impressive yet mostly unexpected run.

During bowl season, a lot is made about motivation. Which squads genuinely want to be there, and which squads need a break and want the offseason to arrive sooner than later. I think both teams are excited about playing in Jacksonville. Neither team is playing out the string. Tennessee certainly appears to be raring to go. They have a senior class that experienced the near-highs and devastating lows of the Butch Jones era. Someday, they might be remembered as the foundation of this era of Volunteer football.

This all said, Tennessee has the more talented roster. Couple that with genuine team enthusiasm, and that is a bad combination for the Hoosiers.

Fearless Prediction time …

Tennessee 33, Indiana 20