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Missouri at Tennessee: Volunteers are hot but missing a few pieces

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Tennessee has won two games in a row and needs one more win to get to its first bowl since 2010. The Volunteers are hot but might be missing a couple of linemen to ankle injuries and a couple of defenders to suspension. We'll see how big a difference that makes.

Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

Let's start our Tennessee preview series with some links.

From Tennessee's perspective, there are two major story lines heading into this game -- one good, one bad.

Bad: Two defenders, including a senior leader, are being investigated for sexual assault and likely won't play on Saturday.

Good: Quarterback Joshua Dobbs, who started as a true freshman last year against Missouri, was intended for redshirt this year but came off the bench when Justin Worley got hurt a few games ago (and backup Nathan Peterman couldn't get anything going). The result: a semi-competitive loss to Alabama and 95 combined points against South Carolina and Kentucky.

The Tennesseean: UT suspends A.J. Johnson, Michael Williams from team

The University of Tennessee football team has suspended a star linebacker and a second player as suspects in an alleged off-campus rape of a 19-year-old woman and the alleged sexual assault of another 19-year-old woman in the early hours of Sunday morning.

Vols linebacker A.J. Johnson, a senior, and defensive back Michael Williams, a sophomore, were suspended from all team-related activities, according to a tweet posted by the football team's official Twitter account Monday.

No arrests have been made, and Knoxville police declined to identify the suspects or make public their written report on Monday, saying it was not yet finalized. A police source confirmed to The Tennessean that Johnson and Williams were suspects in the assaults, which occurred at an off-campus apartment complex.

Post-Dispatch: Tennessee's turnaround hinges on youth

Jones has gushed over the quarterback he had no intention to start this fall.

"He’s not even the same quarterback," Jones said, "just from an arm strength standpoint, from his functional intelligence in terms of knowledge of the offense, his body in terms of his growth and maturation.

"He has the potential to be as good as he wants to be."

Dobbs is a relative veteran compared to many of the players around him. Tennessee has played 23 true freshmen this season, more than any other Football Bowl Subdivision team. Only Tulane has started more true freshmen than Tennessee’s 10.

The Missourian: Tennessee won't be at full strength against Missouri football

A.J. Johnson and Michael Williams, Tennessee's starting middle linebacker and cornerback, respectively, were suspended indefinitely Monday after allegations of sexual assault.

"Obviously it is very difficult," Tennessee coach Butch Jones said. "But it is the situation that we are in. That is about all I can comment right now, as it is going through the legal process." [...]

All of this coincides with Missouri  perhaps being the most injury-free it has been all season. Aside from offensive lineman Anthony Gatti, whose season ended after he tore his ACL against Indiana, and running back Morgan Steward, who Missouri coach Gary Pinkel confirmed Monday would not play this season because of a hip injury, the Tigers expect to bring a healthy roster to Knoxville, Tennessee.

PowerMizzou: Leading the charge
PowerMizzou: Tigers making history in SEC play

From October of 1959 to October of 1961, the Tigers won 12 out of 14 [conference] games. That included a loss to Kansas, which the Jayhawks would later forfeit for using an ineligible player. Without counting that as a victory, the winning percentage is .857. Counting it as a win would bump the percentage to .929, equalling the 1940-43 teams for the best stretch in school history. Twice more in the sixties, the Tigers would have stretches of at least 15 games in which they won at least 78.9% of their games. [...]

Missouri is 12-2 in regular season play in the SEC (including 7-0 on the road) over the last two seasons. The loss to Auburn in the SEC Championship Game (a game six of the previous seven teams on that list would not have had to play) puts the mark at 12-3. That's a winning percentage of .800, which makes the last 15 conference games the fifth-most successful such stretch Mizzou has had in the last 90 seasons.

The Tigers have two games left in the regular season. If they win both, 2013-14 would mark the most successful conference run in Missouri history in 53 years. In the SEC, the biggest, baddest conference of them all. You know, the one where Missouri wasn't supposed to be able to compete.

The Trib (Behind the Stripes): Gary Pinkel on the SEC Teleconference: Week 13

Now let's hear what all Tennessee Coach Butch Jones had to say. [...]

On Missouri's nine-game road win streak: "There are a number of things, a number of dynamics that probably add into that. First of all, their program knows how to win. We talk about developing your players, I think if there's one program that really exemplifies developing your players, it's Missouri. They've done a great job. I think they've reaped the benefits of the coaching staff being in place for a number of years. They know what they want in recruiting and they develop their players. When you're able to have the luxury of redshirting individuals and adding depth, that adds up over time. They're a very, very good football team. They're very sound on what they do. They're very disciplined. They take care of the football. They have a swagger about themselves. The biggest thing is their players expect to win every time they go play a game, whether it's on the road or at home."