Both Tennessee and Mississippi State had disappointing campaigns last season, but it is the Bulldogs who have come back to life in 2012.
Mississippi State, ranked No. 19 in the nation, has rattled off five straight wins to start the season, showing talent on both sides of the ball.
The Volunteers have struggled, going 3-2 despite an impressive offense averaging 39.4 points per game, 20th in the FBS.
The defense has simply not been there for Tennessee, particularly against the run, and that needs to improve before the squad can even think about making a comeback.
Here's a look at Saturday's matchup in Starkville.
Where: Davis Wade Stadium, Starkville, MS
When: Saturday, Oct. 13 at 9 p.m. ET
Live Stream: WatchESPN
Betting Line: -3 Mississippi State, via ScoresAndOdds.com
What's At Stake?
After a 7-6 campaign last season, Mississippi State is riding high with a 5-0 record (2-0 SEC) this season in the SEC West.
On the other hand, the Bulldogs have yet to face a strong team in 2012.
Tennessee has an electric offense complete with quarterback Tyler Bray, but the Volunteers have gone 3-2 this season (0-2 SEC) because the defense has let them down, allowing 29.6 points per game (86th in the nation).
Tennessee last won the SEC East division in 2007. The Volunteers haven't won the conference since 1998.
Injury Report (via USA Today)
LB Curt Maggitt - Toe - Questionable
LB LaTroy Lewis - Knee - OUT for season
PK George Bullock - Leg - OUT for season
TE Malcolm Johnson - Pectoral - Questionable
What They're Saying
Given the way Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart has left his mark on the university, David Climer of the Tennessean wonders if football coach Derek Dooley is on the hot seat.
Climer wrote after Tennessee's 51-44 loss to Georgia:
Considering the Dumpster fire Dooley inherited in January 2010, I tend to believe he needs a fourth year to prove that he either is or is not the man for the job.
Does Dave Hart share that opinion?
He’s not saying.
Dooley has gone 14-16 at Tennessee so far after going 17-20 at Louisiana Tech. That includes going 4-14 in the SEC.
After going 6-7 last season, it's not out of the question that Hart gets rid of Dooley after this season if the Volunteers disappoint, especially with quarterback Tyler Bray and receivers Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson potentially leaving for the NFL in 2013.
As for Mississippi State, while the Bulldogs haven't played anyone noteworthy this season, that doesn't mean they haven't caught the attention of pundits everywhere.
Todd McShay of ESPN called them the most underrated team in the nation on Monday, giving props to quarterback Tyler Russell, receiver Chad Bumphis, running back LaDarius Perkins and a defense that has created a lot of turnovers this season.
Tennessee Player to Watch: Tyler Bray, QB
Tyler Bray has garnered a lot of attention from NFL scouts and analysts alike given a skill set that appears to translate nicely to the pros.
But the junior certainly isn't perfect. In his first two games of the season, Bray tossed six touchdowns to zero interceptions, but he's thrown eight touchdowns to six interceptions in his past three games, including three interceptions against Georgia.
Mississippi State has allowed just 5.6 yards per pass attempt this season (tied for 11th in the FBS) while notching nine interceptions. Bray has to be more careful with the pigskin on Saturday.
Mississippi State Player to Watch: LaDarius Perkins, RB
Junior LaDarius Perkins has rushed for 499 yards and six touchdowns this season while averaging 6.1 yards per carry.
Tennessee is allowing 5.2 yards per carry (112th in the FBS) and 11 rushing touchdowns this season.
Put two and two together and it sets up to be a nightmare for Tennessee's run defense.
Key Matchup: Tennessee Passing Attack vs. Mississippi State pass defense
Although the Bulldogs haven't faced anyone significant yet, there is no doubting the talent of cornerbacks Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay, who have combined for seven interceptions.
Tyler Bray needs to be on his game in this one. If he continues making poor decisions on the football field, he's going to get "picked" apart by the Mississippi State secondary.
Prediction: Mississippi State 30, Tennessee 24
I ultimately like Mississippi State's pass defense over the passing attack of Tennessee. I also expect the Bulldogs' running game to roll over the run defense of the Volunteers.
Bray still has some kinks to work out before heading to the pros, while Johnthan Banks already looks like a top cornerback prospect.
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