This year, losing to the Wildcats would only hurt the Volunteers' self-esteem. Tennessee has won 19 in a row against the Wildcats, and as humbling as it would be for the Vols to see that streak snapped on Saturday, it would not prevent them from playing in the Southeastern Conference championship game.
No. 15 Tennessee aims to go into its rematch with Auburn on Dec. 4 with its streak over the Wildcats (2-8, 1-6) alive and pride intact.
"I don't know what it means to anybody else, but to us as a team it means a lot," defensive end Parys Haralson said.
Tennessee (8-2, 6-1) clinched a berth in the title game by beating Vanderbilt last week for the 22nd time in a row. The Vols could lose Saturday and still go to the SEC title game because they own a tiebreaker over Georgia.
But Tennessee is looking for momentum.
"We're excited about our chance to play in the SEC championship game versus Auburn, but certainly our first and foremost thoughts are right now on finishing the season out well against Kentucky," coach Phillip Fulmer said.
Vanderbilt made Tennessee fight for its 38-33 win last week, and Fulmer expects the same out of Kentucky in the 100th meeting between the teams.
"When we've had our best teams, often times it's been a tough battle," Fulmer said.
In Tennessee's 20-7 win last year in Lexington, Kentucky scored first, and the Vols didn't take the lead until the third quarter.
One of the closest games in recent years was in 2001 when Tennessee trailed 21-7 at halftime but rallied to win 38-35.
The Wildcats had last week off after getting their first SEC win. They were down 13-0 to Vanderbilt and scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to win 14-13.
Kentucky officials say that was the Wildcats' biggest fourth-quarter comeback since at least 1949, when such records were first available.
"We are still a team that does not have a lot of depth and has been devastated by injuries. But the players responded with a very good fourth-quarter comeback," Kentucky coach Rich Brooks said.
"I am hopeful that we can carry that over into the Tennessee game even after coming off of a bye week. It is probably the best quarter we have played in regards to the offense, defense and kicking game, all playing well at the same time."
Kentucky will be playing for the first time without offensive coordinator Ron Hudson, who resigned on Monday.
The Wildcats' offense has been pitiful this season, ranking 115th out of 117 Division I-A schools in scoring, 114th in total offense, 103rd in passing and 99th in rushing.
Kentucky will call plays by committee on Saturday with Brooks more involved in the decisions.
Tennessee junior Rick Clausen will be making his second start at quarterback in place of injured freshmen Erik Ainge and Brent Schaeffer. Clausen is most likely to be the starter in the SEC title game.