The Fearless Prediction has had a couple of hiccups this year, but let’s give credit where credit is due. Two weeks ago we picked the exact score of the Tennessee vs. Kentucky game.

Yes, even the blind squirrel finds a nut every now and then. Let’s keep the momentum going.

Saturday’s Missouri game is big for Tennessee. With 2 games left, they only need 1 win to earn bowl eligibility, an accomplishment that seemed nearly impossible earlier this season. A victory over the Tigers would pull the Vols closer to spending the holidays in such a scenic locale like Shreveport, and isn’t that something we all strive for in our lives. (I’m just kidding. Riverboat casinos are awesome).

This game also means another matchup against Derek Dooley, the former Vols head coach who holds the title of offensive coordinator at Mizzou. The numbers tell us that the Dooley era at Tennessee (2010-2012) was a disaster. A 15-21 record. A 4-19 mark in SEC play and 3 consecutive losing seasons. Tennessee’s first loss to Kentucky in 26 years. Zero wins against a ranked opponent. An orange ceramic dog that showed up at practice to promote positive thinking a day after Tennessee lost to Arkansas by 42 points. The “Opportunity is Nowhere” sign. I could go on and on.

At least the press conferences were fun.

Tennessee made a panic hire when it selected the former Louisiana Tech boss only a few days after the sudden departure of Lane Kiffin, and the results were not a surprise to anyone paying attention to this football program. Dooley got a $5 million buyout ($102,049 a month … every month … for 4 years!) after his firing near the end of the 2012 season. He has attempted to resurrect his career since then. Dooley spent 5 years as the wide receivers coach with the Dallas Cowboys and is now in Year 2 as the Mizzou OC. He got that job despite having never called plays. Last year he had Drew Lock at quarterback (now a Denver Bronco) and this year it’s been another likely NFL draft pick, Clemson transfer Kelly Bryant.

Of course, none of Tennessee’s players were on those Dooley teams. They have no connection to him. Only one coach on Tennessee’s staff was also a Dooley assistant (offensive coordinator Jim Chaney, who left and returned). But Vols fans would have to hand Dooley a loss, especially after his Mizzou offense scored 50 against the Vols in 2018.

Vols fans might get their wish because Missouri has the look of a team that wants the season to end as quickly as possible. After starting 5-1, they’ve dropped 4 in a row, including last week’s 23-6 loss to Florida. The offense that looked so impressive against weaker competition has scored 27 points combined in those 4 losses.

As far as Tennessee is concerned, quarterback Jarrett Guarantano has a broken (non-throwing) hand, but the offense is still making enough plays to win. Guarantano appears to be more comfortable coming off the bench, so it’ll be interesting to see if that trend continues. True freshman Brian Maurer started against Kentucky and could get the opening call once again, even though Guarantano appears to be the best option.

Most important, the UT defense has been terrific, allowing fewer than 14 points a game during the recent 3-game winning streak. Linebacker Daniel Bituli is a force, with 34 tackles in the Vols’ past 2 victories.

Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt kept this team focused and motivated, despite starting the season 1-4. The mere fact that the Vols have shown a tremendous amount of improvement since then should give UT fans lots of reasons to feel good about the program’s future.

The Vols are coming off a bye week. They are rested. They are healthy. And they will be ready to go on what will be a very cold night in Columbia. If Tennessee loses, they’ll still have one more chance to become bowl eligible the following week against 2-8 Vanderbilt. But UT won’t let the opportunity pass them by.

Fearless Prediction time …

Tennessee 23, Missouri 10