Tennessee Vols Prepare for Kentucky Week...Wait, What!?

Joel BarkerSenior Writer INovember 22, 2010

LEXINGTON, KY - NOVEMBER 28:  Gerald Jones #4 of the Tennessee Volunteers catches a pass while defended by Trevard Lindley #32 of the Kentucky Wildcats during the SEC game at Commonwealth Stadium on November 28, 2009 in Lexington, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Tennessee has two rivals that are worthy of the distinction, "It's ________ Week!" For much of the last 20 years Alabama and Florida have filled-in that blank. 

Now, a game that the Vols have not lost since 1984 will bring almost as much anticipation as the annual Third Saturday in October showdown with Alabama.

One wouldn't think that a team the Vols have absolutely dominated would bring so much hubbub. But when that team is all that stands between Tennessee and a bowl game, you understand the reason for all the fuss.

Coming in to the 2010 season many pundits thought this would be the year that the Wildcats would finally break through and defeat Tennessee. And why not? Tennessee did hire its third coach in three years before this season, after all. 

This series, although owned by Tennessee for the last quarter-century, has featured many close games in recent years. 

Truth being told, Kentucky should have defeated Tennessee in 2005 and 2008 as well. The Wildcats led 21-0 in 2001 before the Vols came back to win. They took Tennessee to four overtimes in 2007 and two overtimes last season. 

Kentucky has been to four straight bowl games and just clinched a fifth straight bowl appearance against Vanderbilt just two weeks ago. Tennessee, who outscored Kentucky by an average of 30 points per contest in the '90s, has fallen on hard times recently. During this decade that average margin of victory has been slashed in half at only 15 points per contest. 

Four times in the last 25 years, Tennessee kept Kentucky from becoming bowl eligible by handing the 'Cats their sixth loss of the season. Kentucky has the distinct opportunity to return the favor this season as Tennessee must defeat Wildcats to become bowl eligible. 

Since Tennessee's last defeat at the hands of Kentucky, the White House has changed hands five times. Kentucky is on its sixth head coach since that 17-12 victory of the Vols in 1984. The Wildcats have been to seven bowl games in that time frame versus 22 for the Vols. Tennessee has won the SEC title five times and the national title once since that fateful November day in 1984. 

But all of that means nothing come Saturday at 12:21 eastern time in Knoxville, Tennessee. All that will matter is Kentucky vs. Tennessee. The fact that the game actually matters to Vols fans at all speaks volumes about the state of both programs.