Houston Nutt's Rebels are 4-5 in his third season as head coach. Derek Dooley, the third Volunteer head coach in three seasons, has his first UT team 3-6 hosting Ole Miss.
But with the potential for both to still become bowl eligible, that in itself makes this one important.
The Vols and Rebs both enter on winning highs. Tennessee scored 50 points for the second time this season in a 50-14 romp over Memphis. In the season opener, the Vols beat another instate foe, UT-Martin, 50-0.
Ole Miss defeated Louisiana-Lafayette 43-21, breaking a three-game losing skid with setbacks to ranked foes Alabama, Arkansas, and Auburn.
The Vols' season appeared set to turn in a positive direction at LSU on Oct. 2. The game seemed to end with Tennessee up 14-10. But the Vols had too many defensive men on the field as time expired, and LSU got another chance to score from the UT 1-yard line.
The Tigers scored, and Tennessee was dealt a serious blow to its season and its confidence.
They'll enter the Ole Miss game with renewed confidence after the lopsided win at Memphis. It's homecoming at UT, and the Volunteers will unveil a 9-foot statue of its most legendary coach, General Robert Neyland, whose name is on the stadium.
Tennessee is currently 10th in the SEC in total offense. Defensively, the Vols are ranked 11th. Ole Miss is 10th in the league in total defense heading into this one. Offensively the Rebs have an edge, currently fifth among SEC teams.
Ole Miss offense in brief: The Rebels' rushing game continues to come around. Ole Miss had two 100-yard rushers last Saturday – Brandon Bolden with 136 yards and Enrique Davis with 116 yards. The Rebels are second in the SEC in rushing. But too many drives stalled out against the Ragin' Cajuns. The positive on that was the fact that placekicker Bryson Rose was 5 for 5 in the field goal department. On the season, the sophomore is 14 for 16 on field goals and 36 for 36 on extra points. The big question, however, for the Rebels this weekend is the status of starting quarterback Jeremiah Masoli. The senior signal-caller suffered a concussion on a scoring play when he butted heads with a UL-L defender. His preparation has been limited this week. Nathan Stanley played more than half the game vs. Louisiana. A decision on Masoli's playing status, according to UM head coach Houston Nutt, will likely be made Friday night.
Ole Miss defense in brief: The Rebels were, for the most part, solid against UL-L. Once the visiting team scored a touchdown to cut the Ole Miss lead at the time to 27-14 and then scooped and scored on a fumble return of 93 yards to make it 27-21, both in the second quarter, the Rebel "D" gave up nothing more. Getting some pressure, a challenge all season for the Ole Miss defenders, on Tennessee freshman signal-caller Tyler Bray could prove to be a key. Tennessee is dead last in rushing in the conference, so they are going to try to throw it, where they are sixth among league teams. Ole Miss defensive end Gerald Rivers is still a bit hobbled by an ankle injury. Rebel middle linebacker Jonathan Cornell appears to be back at 100 percent after a hip injury, and that will help the Reb defenders.
Ole Miss wins if...It's the same story every week for Ole Miss. The offense has mostly been good enough to win. The defense has given up a big play or two every game, often for a score.
If the Rebels do not allow any big-play touchdowns this game, they will win. If Masoli is at the controls, they will have a better chance, but Stanley can still get the job done. He just hasn't had any chances this season to do so.
Tennessee wins if...the Rebels let Bray have time to pass. He's a freshman. He could get rattled, but only if Rebels are in his face from time to time. The Vols have some big-play receivers in Gerald Jones and Denarius Moore. There's no Wild Rebel named McCluster to shred the Big Orange defense this time around, but Masoli, if he plays, is capable of making some big things happen. If he doesn't, the Vols' victory chances improve.
Tennessee offensive player to watch: Luke Stocker, a 6-foot-6, 253-pound senior tight end. He's third on the team with 21 receptions and ranks fourth on the squad with 210 yards. Stocker had five catches against Florida and had 56 yards in receptions against UAB.
Tennessee defensive player to watch: Senior defensive end Chris Walker, who made the most of his return to his hometown with his first two sacks of the season against Memphis. With 33 tackles and five quarterback hurries, Walker is the defensive leader of the Volunteers.
Noteworthy: Tennessee is 71-12 in November since 1990...In Bray's first college start last week, he was 18 for 33 for 325 yards and five touchdowns passes to five different receivers...A paltry 39,742 was the announced attendance at last Saturday night's Tennessee-Memphis game at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium...Ole Miss' last win in Knoxville was 1983 in Billy Brewer's first season as head coach, his Rebels defeating Johnny Majors' Volunteers, 13-10. Since then, UT has won six straight against Ole Miss on Shields-Watkins Field at Neyland Stadium.