My pick: Tennessee 31, UK 21

I thought Tennessee would hammer Mississippi State, and I was right. <p> I thought Tennessee would hammer Vanderbilt, and I was right. <p> I DON'T think Tennessee will hammer Kentucky ... I hope I'm wrong.

I've seen enough Vol-Wildcat games to know that Commonwealth Stadium is a tough place for Tennessee to win, no matter how good the Big Orange appears to be and no matter how weak the Big Blue appears to be.

Here's a little Commonwealth Stadium history lesson:

1987: Tennessee, on its way to a 10-2-1 season, narrowly escapes with a 24-22 win.

1991: Tennessee, ranked No. 10 nationally and bound for the Fiesta Bowl, prevails 16-7.

1995: Tennessee, ranked No. 4 nationally and headed for an 11-1 record, squeaks by 34-31.

2001: Tennessee, ranked No. 6 nationally on its way to an 11-2 record, holds on 38-35 when Kentucky's potential game-winning drive ends with a fumble at the Vol 31-yard line.

I attended every one of those games, and Tennessee was fortunate to be 4-0 in them instead of 0-4.

So, the fact the Vols are 9-2 and ranked No. 7 nationally is meaningless. So is the fact Kentucky is 4-7 and unranked.

Kentucky has just two quality weapons -- quarterback Jared Lorenzen and receiver/return man Derek Abney ... and Abney's nursing an ankle injury. But those two guys are capable of making the kind of big plays that can neutralize an opponent's advantage in overall talent.

Although Tennessee belted Vandy 48-0 just one week after Kentucky fell to Vandy by a 28-17 margin, those scores mean next-to-nothing. If you want to compare scores, note that the Big Blue played Georgia closer (losing 30-10) than the Big Orange did (losing 41-14).

Another reason the Kentucky game scares me is the Vols' apparent inability to handle prosperity. They're playing well and riding a five-game winning streak, making them ripe for an upset.

Consider:

The 1999 Vols carried a six-game winning streak into their game at Arkansas ... and lost. The 2000 Vols carried a six-game winning streak into the Cotton Bowl game with Kansas State ... and lost.

The 2001 Vols carried a seven-game winning streak into the SEC Championship game with LSU ... and lost again.

I'm not suggesting the 2003 Vols will lose to Kentucky. I'm merely suggesting that conditions are ripe for UT to struggle against an opponent that almost always provides a stern test.

My pick: Tennessee 31, Kentucky 21.


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