|Mississippi State QB Tyler Russell and the Bulldogs will be looking for a 6-0 start on Saturday. (US Presswire)|
Kickoff: Saturday, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Spread: Mississippi State by 3
Watchability: This matchup is intriguing. It'll give a better idea if Mississippi State is worthy of its ranking. The Bulldogs are undefeated, but SEC wins over Auburn and Kentucky, two of the worst teams in the conference, aren't that impressive. A win for the Bulldogs would give them a lot of momentum heading into games against Alabama, Texas A&M and LSU in the next month. It will also give a better picture of where the Vols stand. Their offense has been impressive, but the defense has faltered in conference losses to Florida and Georgia.
Shining stars: Tennessee: QB Tyler Bray is one of the most talented passers in the conference, but he's still looking for his first win over a ranked team. He put the Vols in position against Georgia two weeks ago, but his untimely fumble cost Tennessee a chance to tie or win it in the last minute. Despite having a bye last week, he still leads the conference in total passing yards with 1,582. Mississippi State: QB Tyler Russell doesn't have quite the arm that Bray does, but his decision making has been nearly flawless this season. He has only thrown one interception in 145 attempts, on his way to 10 touchdowns and 1,091 yards on the season.
Who could steal the show: Tennessee: WR/KR Cordarrelle Patterson is one of the most impressive athletes in the SEC. He has 290 receiving yards on the season, but the Vols also get the ball in his hands on kickoff returns and as a runner on reverses. His 19.6 yards-per-carry average is proof that he can turn almost any play into a big one. Mississippi State: CB Johnthan Banks is one of the best cover corners in the nation. He will be tested this week by Tennessee's passing attack. He could cover Patterson or the Vols' leading WR, Justin Hunter. Banks has three interceptions and 78 interception return yards on the season .
You going? Ranking the road trip: You'd better like cowbells. Davis Wade Stadium only holds 55,082, but it sounds like a lot more with many of those fans ringing cowbells all night. It's a late kickoff, so head on down to see Starkville and enjoy the town during the day.
Magic number for Tennessee: 6. That's how many straight wins it has over the Bulldogs, dating back to 1994.
Magic number for Mississippi State: 199.6. That's the average number of passing yards the Bulldogs have given up per game this season. The Vols average 329.9 yards per game through the air. Something has to give.
The game comes down to: There's not a huge talent gap between these two programs, so the team that can protect the ball better has a great shot to win this one. The edge goes to Mississippi State in that area. The Bulldogs are third nationally in turnover margin (plus-2.2 per game), and Bray has served up five interceptions in two SEC games this season. That, plus home-field advantage, should be enough to give the Bulldogs the slight edge.
Prediction: Mississippi State 34, Tennessee 28
For more up-to-the minute news and analysis from SEC bloggers Larry Hartstein and Daniel Lewis, follow @CBSSportsSEC.