Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tennessee holds more than 102,000 people. Every one of them can remember their Vols getting crushed by Bama, 41-10, at home back in 2010, Derek Dooley's first season as head coach. Just like they all remember crushing Ole Miss by 38 points later that year. Last season, that double-overtime win over Vandy at the end of the year took some of the sting out of a woulda, coulda, shoulda loss to Georgia and a never-shoulda-been-in-the-same-state loss to LSU.
And no doubt, now that Mr. Dooley is in his third season as head coach, they have very high expectations. They have probably gone through the schedule half a dozen times, checking it with all the urgency of a coder, playing out scenarios in their head: "Well, you know, if we play offense against Georgia this time that could be a win." What they're looking for, really, is to reach that magic number that puts the Vols in a bowl.
Meanwhile, all over the country, there are plenty of other people eyeballing the Vols schedule, playing out scenarios in their head with cold logic. They've got a win total in mind, too, and it has nothing to do with postseason play. The number is 7.5, and the only thing these guys want to know is: Will the Vols win more or less than that?
Over this past weekend, the Las Vegas Hotel, former known as the Hilton, posted its college football season win totals. The bookmakers there offered up 35 teams, mostly BCS schools and those that will be rotating in and out of the Top 25 all season, along with locals such as UNLV and Nevada. Earning the biggest totals are Bama, USC, Oklahoma and Oregon with 10.5 wins. At the bottom -- other than UNLV with three -- were Mizzou, with 6.5 wins, and UCLA with six wins.
Just 35 teams, most of them with schedules any wise guy worth his database can scan and figure out whether or not there is an advantage. If they find two or three, a little less than 10 percent of the lineup, that they like, they'll feel pretty good. "This is not something I bet a large percentage of my bankroll on," says Paul Stone, the ultra-marathon running Texan who spends his recovery time handicapping games. "It's less than five percent of my football bankroll and less than one percent of my yearlong bankroll."
Some guys, like Stone, like the small sample size offered by the LVH and other Las Vegas properties. They like getting a ticket, stashing it away in a box and pulling it out in December if they're right. It's a small happy investment that helps them prepare for the week-to-week grind. For example, take Stone's assessment of Tennessee.