The Fearless Prediction got off to a solid start last week with our bold selection of a Tennessee win over Bowling Green. Yes, we went out on a limb, but we aren’t afraid to take chances.

This week the Fearless Prediction is looking to improve to 2-0 with Pittsburgh coming to Neyland Stadium. The weather forecast looks terrific in Knoxville with sunny skies and a high of 81. The Vols would prefer this game be played on the surface of the sun, but the visitors from the north will have pleasant conditions for the high noon kickoff.

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This game will also be the Johnny Majors Classic, as the legendary coach at both schools and player at Tennessee will be honored. Majors passed away in 2020.

Pittsburgh, like Tennessee, is coming off a blowout victory over one of the worst teams in all of college football the previous season as the Panthers torched UMass 51-7. Pitt QB Kenny Pickett was impressive, completing 58% of his passes for 279 yards and 2 touchdowns. Pickett has lots of options in that passing game, with tight end Lucas Krull and wide receiver Jared Wayne a couple of his go-to guys.

The Panthers stress the passing game. Rodney Hammond, Jr. led Pitt in carries (8) and rushing yards (44) against UMass. Pickett can gain yards by scrambling when necessary, but he prefers to move the football with his arm.

Tennessee coach Josh Heupel picked Michigan transfer Joe Milton as his starting quarterback, and Milton looked good at times against Bowling Greeny. He threw for a touchdown and 139 yards, a total that would have been higher if not for some drops by his wide receivers. Jalin Hyatt in particular had 2 drops that would have meant big gains for Milton and this offense.

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But Milton also overthrew open receivers deep down the field multiple times. In that game against the Falcons, Milton spent way too much time in the pocket, flat-footed, waiting for the right moment to throw the ball. His offensive line gave him tons of time to throw, but that’s not always going to be the case as the competition gets better.

Tennessee’s offensive identity is still growing, but if the Bowling Green game is any indication, Heupel’s best chance to win will come with running backs Jabari Small and Tiyon Evans. They combined for 237 rushing yards and 2 scores against the Falcons. The decisive touchdown drive in that game came at the start of the third quarter, when the Vols went 72 yards on 8 plays, all of them runs. Look for the Vols to use Small and Evans early and often against Pittsburgh, especially if the passing game isn’t productive in the early going.

Pittsburgh’s defense has playmakers, among them John Petrishen, a Penn State transfer. The linebacker, now in his 7th year playing college football, had a team-high 6 tackles and 2 sacks last Saturday. Defensive lineman Calijah Kancey added 5 tackles and a sack.

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Tennessee’s defense was impressive against Bowling Green, allowing only 219 yards of total offense and a mere 6 points. Defensive back Theo Jackson had a night to remember, registering a team-high 11 tackles. But the Falcons’ offense is woefully inept. Pittsburgh presents an entirely different challenge.

This is not an easy game to pick. The oddsmakers in the big, shiny buildings in the Nevada desert established Pittsburgh as a slight favorite. Can we really tell that much about either team from those Week 1 victories? Bowling Green and UMass will be arguably the worst teams on the Vols’ and Panthers’ schedule.

Tennessee will have the home-field advantage, and Pittsburgh won’t be used to the level of noise those fans will bring. This will be one of those crowds looking for a reason to let loose. But that’s not going to be enough to push the Vols over the top. The Panthers have an experienced quarterback and will be able to extend drives, further tiring a Vols defense that already has depth concerns. That’s a bad combination and will come into play come the fourth quarter.

Fearless Prediction time …

Pittsburgh 31, Tennessee 24