The Tennessee Volunteers have a big game against the Bulldogs of Mississippi State after the bye week. While it will likely be the most important game of the season thus far, the most important game of the season overall will be against the Tigers of Missouri on November 10th.
Approximately five minutes after the loss to Florida, I turned to my new best friend (i.e., the woman who bought her Neyland Stadium ticket beside me three hours earlier) and said, "Everything points toward the Mississippi State game."
And I firmly believe that. Because the Volunteers found a way to pull out at the end against Akron and used turnovers to stay close at No. 5 Georgia all game, the team is just one off the best-case scenario record of 4-1 after five games.
As soon as the clock strikes zero in Starkville next Saturday and cements the Vols' fourth win or third loss, all roads point toward Missouri. The game against the SEC East rookie will decide how Tennessee finishes, which is why it is the most pivotal game of the season.
A loss against Mississippi State will be a big disappointment since it is the most winnable game against a ranked opponent during Derek Dooley's tenure. Aside from that, it sets up a likely 0-3 October, sending the Vols to 0-12 in the month since Lane Kiffin left.
Still, arriving at November at 3-5 sets up a chance to win out and go to a bowl game that could send the Volunteers to more than seven wins for the first time since 2007. However, it's only possible if the Vols win what will be a tough game against Missouri in Neyland.
The Tigers have won at least eight games every year since 2005 and have one of the most mobile quarterbacks in the SEC. Contrary to their lackluster performances against Georgia and South Carolina, they're a quality team.
A win against Mississippi State will have a lot of fans feeling optimistic about the rest of the season. It will boost the team's confidence going into the Alabama and South Carolina games, with a decent chance of causing an upset in Columbia.
Leaving October at 4-4 paves the way for Tennessee to attain eight wins in the regular season and most likely head back to the Georgia Dome for the Chick-Fil-A Bowl, which is nothing to scoff at. Of course, it requires the Big Orange defeat Missouri, the last remaining obstacle after Halloween.
Are you seeing what I'm seeing? Win or lose against Mississippi State, the Missouri game immediately becomes the most important bout in terms of where the Vols go ahead after it.