Tennessee (4-7, 0-7 SEC) vs. Kentucky (2-9, 0-7 SEC)
Saturday, 12:21 p.m. ET
Neyland Stadium (102,455) . Knoxville, Tenn.
TV: SEC Network
Series Record: Tennessee leads 74-24-9
Why Saturday is important
Thirteen seniors will play their final game for the Vols and Tennessee will look to salvage a sliver of its 2012 season. Interim head coach Jim Chaney will get his only chance to lead the team after last Sunday’s dismissal of former head coach Derek Dooley. Win or lose, this game will be forgotten relatively soon. All the attention will immediately return to the current coaching search as soon as this game is over. There’s some pride and a 13-game home winning streak over the Wildcats on the line, but there’s really not much left to play for after last week’s loss at Vanderbilt knocked the Vols out of bowl contention.
Three things to know about Kentucky
Like Tennessee, the Wildcats (2-9, 0-7 SEC) have had a disappointing 2012 campaign and will have a new coach in 2012. Unlike the Vols, Kentucky is playing the season out with lame-duck head coach Joker Phillips still in charge through this Saturday. . It didn’t have too high of expectations for this season, but injuries have made a bad team even worse this season. The Wildcats lost promising sophomore QB Maxwell Smith in Week 5 to an ankle injury. Starting RB CoShik Williams (hip) was also lost for the season. Those are just a couple of the many injuries Kentucky has endured. . The Wildcats still have several high-level SEC players who can give the Vols trouble. Center Matt Smith and guard Larry Warford make up one of the best interior offensive lines in the conference. Linebacker Avery Williamson leads the SEC with 128 tackles.
What you should know about Kentucky coach Joker Phillips
He comes into his final game as the head coach at Kentucky with a 13-23 record (4-19 SEC). The former Kentucky wide receiver and assistant coach took the Wildcats to the BBVA Compass Bowl in 2011, but he’s won only seven games since. . He’s unsure of his next destination, but Phillips has expressed interest in finding another opportunity to be a head coach. . His real name is Joe, but he was given the nickname Joker to distinguish himself from his father, also named Joe. . A few names to watch for as his potential replacement at Kentucky: Kliff Kingsbury (offensive coordinator, Texas A&M), Sonny Dykes (head coach, Louisiana Tech), Willie Taggart (head coach, Western Kentucky), Bobby Petrino (former head coach, Arkansas), Brent Pease (offensive coordinator, Florida).
Tennessee players to watch
Watch the 13 seniors playing their last game, but also keep an eye on quarterback Tyler Bray, wide receiver Justin Hunter, wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson and right tackle Ja’Wuan James. Could it be the final game for those four juniors as well? None have confirmed what their plans for next year will be, but all would have at least a chance to be picked in the first few rounds of the 2013 NFL Draft if they choose to leave early.
Kentucky player to watch
The quarterback position has been a revolving door all season, but freshman Jalen Whitlow is listed as the starter for Saturday and he’ll probably take most of the snaps. He’s still learning the position, but he brings some athleticism and play-making ability to the field. He’s completed 58-of-116 passes (50 percent) for 576 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions to go along with 175 yards and three touchdowns on the ground.
Random facts to impress your friends
The Vols have five games of 500-plus yards of total offense this season, the most since 1998. . A win would improve the Vols to 78-16 in the month of November since 1990 and 8-4 since 2010. . This is the first time the Vols will finish with back-to-back sub-.500 regular seasons since 1910-11. . Tennessee has never lost eight games in a season.
Chaney on his involvement in the defense this week:
“I just tell them to go out there and stop them.”
The Vols will win if .
They play like this game means something to them. Vanderbilt was a better team than Tennessee last week, but the Vols had their worst overall effort of the season in the game. Kentucky’s defense doesn’t have the personnel to stop Bray, Hunter and Patterson, and its offense isn’t explosive enough to put up huge numbers, even against Tennessee’s porous defense.
The Vols will lose if .
They’re already ready for the season to be over. Kentucky doesn’t have the overall talent of Tennessee, but the Wildcats have played a few stretches of good football this season. They lost to Georgia 29-24 and they led South Carolina 17-7 at halftime. They beat Tennessee last year with a wide receiver playing quarterback, so it’s hard to completely count them out of this one.
Tennessee 35, Kentucky 24
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee football for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @Daniel_LewisCBS.