The Vols close out the first half of their season with Saturday’s game at No. 19 Mississippi State (9 p.m., ESPN2), and the Bulldogs are a slim favorite.
Although Tennessee’s 3-2 record isn’t shocking, the season has been marked by surprises — the resiliency against Georgia, the rough first half against Akron, the Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde halves against Florida. The Vols’ open date last Saturday offered even more surprises as the presumably great Georgia Bulldogs were bulldozed by South Carolina at the same time the presumably weak North Carolina State was knocking off undefeated and No. 3-ranked Florida State.
But what now for Tennessee? No. 1 Alabama and No. 3 South Carolina loom large after MSU, followed a markedly soft four-game stretch in November.
MSU could be the last team Tennessee faces this season in which the Vols are neither a decided underdog nor a prohibitive favorite, so this game could be a clear measuring stick for just how far along UT is in the rebuilding process.
With that in mind, we ask: On a scale of 1 to 5, how important is this game for Derek Dooley and his team?