The Volunteers started out with a 1-2 record with a first-year head coach in Lane Kiffin.
The Rebels began the season with very high expectations, including a No. 4 preseason record.
Both teams are one game away from being bowl eligible with three games remaining on their schedules.
Tennessee appears to be playing some of its best football coming off an impressive 56-28 win over Memphis, while Ole Miss struggled at times against 1-AA Northern Arizona last weekend before handling the Lumberjacks, 38-14.
"We have to be at our best this Saturday to have a chance to win the game," Ole Miss Head Coach Houston Nutt said in his Monday afternoon press conference. "We have to have tremendous focus. We have to focus on attention to every detail. We can't just go through the motions."
Nutt is apparently impressed with the improvement the Volunteers have made this season, especially on defense.
"Monte Kiffin is one of the greatest defensive minds in football," Nutt said. "Their defense plays a lot like him and his personality. They are very intense, they are very sound and they play with a lot of speed."
Nutt is also impressed with Tennessee's Heisman candidate, Eric Berry.
"Berry is definitely a difference maker," Nutt explained. "He is a player that is always around the football. He is all over the field for them."
The second-year Ole Miss Head coach also seemed impressed with the recent improvement of the Tennessee offense and the play of senior quarterback Jonathan Crompton.
"Whoever has been working with Crompton has done a great job," Nutt said. "When you have a running game like they do, it's the quarterback's best friend. He has really done a good job lately leading his team and making some great throws."Nutt also realizes that his team will see a lot of the Volunteer running game.
"Montario Hardesty is one of the best three backs in our league," Nutt said. "He is very physical. When he hits the hole he is headed down hill with the ball. We will have to do a good job wrapping up. We can't afford any missed tackles."
The veteran SEC coach seemed more concerned about his team's efforts in what Nutt called a very important ball game for his club.
"We have to do a good job at what we do," Nutt said. "I'm more concerned about our guys playing the way they know how to play. Everything else should take care of itself."
Ole Miss comes into Saturday's matchup in Oxford with a 6-3 overall record and 2-3 in conference play - a disappointment from the high preseason expectations. The Rebels will have to win one more game to be bowl eligible since they have played two 1-AA teams on their schedule this fall.
"It doesn't get any bigger than this," Nutt said. "Getting bowl eligible is very important to us as a team. The extra preparation it allows us to get for our program is critical."
Tennessee, 5-4 overall, is playing some of its best football currently and also needs one game to be bowl eligible. Nutt realizes this.
"It will be a great SEC battle," Nutt said. "They are playing really well right now. We have to stay focused on the things we do best and play a great game."
Nutt downplayed the return of former Ole Miss Head Coach Ed Orgeron, this time as the associate head coach for the Volunteers.
"I have spoken to Ed a few times," Nutt said. "He has always been very complimentary of our season last year. I thanked him for recruiting some great defensive linemen here at Ole Miss. We can't be focused on who is coaching them; we have to be focused on how we play."
Nutt did admit that his players need to be excited about their opportunity this weekend, to finish off strong and to get bowl eligible for the second straight season.
"It's not easy sometimes when some people think this season is a disappointment from early expectations," Nutt said. "We just have to put it all together like we know we can. The kids have to be excited about his game. It's very important to us."