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Tennessee Volunteers vs. Kentucky Wildcats Preview and Prediction

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In what once was known as the "Battle for the Barrel," Tennessee and Kentucky have carried a bitter rivalry throughout the decades. This year's version features a couple teams battling for at least third place in the SEC East. The Wildcats enter the game 4-3 (2-3 SEC), while the Vols are 3-4 (1-3 SEC). 

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Tennessee has suffered four losses by a combined 17 points this season. The Vols had 14-point leads against Oklahoma, Florida and Arkansas but couldn't get the job done. Tennessee is coming off a tight 19-14 defeat in Tuscaloosa and is probably looking forward to five winnable games to close out the season.

This looks to be the year head coach Mark Stoops gets the Wildcats back to a bowl game. Kentucky needs only two more wins to reach bowl eligibility and still gets to play Vanderbilt and Charlotte. The 'Cats come into this bout with Tennessee having lost two in a row to SEC West competition, Auburn and Mississippi State.

Saturday marks the 111th meeting all-time between Tennessee and Kentucky. It is one of the oldest rivalries in college football, dating back to 1893. Kentucky won that first meeting 56-0, but since then the Vols have dominated the series, 77-24-9. Tennessee also has won 29 of its last 30 against the Wildcats with the Vols' lone loss coming in 2011.

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Tennessee at Kentucky 

Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)

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TV: SEC Network

Spread: Tennessee -9

Three Things to Watch

1. How many interceptions will Patrick Towles throw?

The Wildcats' quarterback has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns through his first seven games. Kentucky doesn't have very many productive options behind Towles on the bench, but nine interceptions is a lot. Towles tossed two last week against Mississippi State in a 42-16 loss. Towles brings a strong arm into the equation, however, and the Vols' secondary has been susceptible to giving up the deep ball. Towles will likely be able to take some shots, but his accuracy must improve or Tennessee could pick off some passes. 

2. Can Kentucky contain Joshua Dobbs?

Kentucky's defense has been ugly at times under Stoops, but it has improved tremendously in a year's time. The Vols were able to hang 50 points on the Wildcats last year in Knoxville, due in part to the performance of Dobbs, who threw for 297 yards and three touchdowns. This season, Dobbs has been effective throwing, for the most part, and lit up both Florida and Georgia on the ground. His ability to extend plays could cause problems for Kentucky's defense, especially if the Vols open up the passing game. 

3. Will the winner be in the driver's seat to finish second in the East?

This game could potentially mean a lot for these two teams. First of all, it would be a nice step forward in getting to bowl eligibility for both. But more so, it could determine which team ends up second in the division. If Florida beats Georgia Saturday, the Bulldogs will have three conference losses. The winner of this game also will have three conference losses. Tennessee has already beaten Georgia and Kentucky still has an opportunity to do so. This game could end up meaning quite a bit in the SEC East hierarchy.  

Final Analysis

The Volunteers and Wildcats are both coached by third-year coaches who have made meaningful strides in building their programs. Tennessee's Butch Jones is probably a few paces ahead of Stoops because of his success in recruiting. But both coaches are facing a ton of pressure to finish out the season strong. Kentucky is good enough offensively to hang around in this game, but the defense is going to have a difficult time slowing down the Vols' running game. Dobbs can scramble and Jalen Hurd is a bruiser. It has been said that Tennessee is the best 3-4 team in the country. The Vols will prove it in Lexington.

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Prediction: Tennessee 34, Kentucky 20

— Written by Cody McClure, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a radio host and lead SEC Writer for Three Point Stance Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @CodyMcClureCFB.