If the Tennessee Vols defy the odds and reach a bowl game in 2019, after starting the season 1-4 (with losses to Georgia State and BYU) there will be elation among UT fans.

But there will also be a contingent of fans that will be quick to remind folks that instead of a six win team, the Vols should’ve been an eight win team.

Of course, none of that matters if Tennessee doesn’t beat Mississippi State on Saturday.

If the Vols lose to the Bulldogs, it will mean they’ll have to win every game after their matchup against Alabama (October 19) to reach a bowl game. With games South Carolina, Missouri, Kentucky and Vanderbilt remaining on the schedule, it seems unlikely that Tennessee would win out.

But a win against Mississippi State would give the Vols a little breathing room. It would also give Tennessee a victory against a SEC West opponent in two straight seasons for the first time since the 2007 and 2008 seasons.

Perhaps most importantly, a win against the Bulldogs would energize the Vol fan base — especially if true freshman quarterback Brian Maurer is the driving force behind the win.

The Vols had a different vibe against Georgia last week with Maurer under center. Defensive back Nigel Warrior told reporters on Tuesday that he felt Tennessee played with more energy against the Bulldogs, saying “I feel like we came out of our shell more…..we opened up a little bit”.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we saw more energy from the Vols with a new quarterback.

The quarterback has to be the leader of not just the offense, but the whole team. When you typically think of great teams, your first thought is usually the quarterback. Without great leadership a team can’t be great.

That’s why on-the-field leadership is key. And I think it’s obvious the Vols didn’t have enough of it during the first four games of the season with Jarrett Guarantano under center. Maurer might be young, but his presence and leadership (standing in the T and shaking his teammates hands as they ran onto the field, for example) changed the entire demeanor of the team.

The Vols didn’t stand a chance of beating Georgia regardless of who started at quarterback. There was simply too much of a talent gap. But they’ll have a good shot at beating Mississippi State.

If Tennessee, with Maurer under center, can come out and handle the Bulldogs in Neyland Stadium on Saturday, I think it will show fans what a Jeremy Pruitt led program is capable of with a good quarterback and proper leadership.

Maurer has a lot of improving to do, but he might end up being what salvages Tennessee’s season.

If the Vols win on Saturday, I think Tennessee’s chances of reaching a bowl game will increase drastically. And the entire perception of UT’s season, and Pruitt, will change for the better.

Featured image via Bryan Lynn-USA TODAY Sports

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