Saturday will bring two teams closer than the 165 miles that separates their games.
Missouri's trip to face No. 13 South Carolina (3-1, 2-1 SEC) and Tennessee’s game against No. 12 Georgia (2-1, 0-1) in Athens, Georgia, stand as reminders of what inches can mean in a football game.
A year ago, Missouri (3-1, 0-0) and Tennessee (2-1, 0-0) were inches from huge wins against their respective Saturday opponents.
For Missouri, kicker Andrew Baggett clanked a 24-yard field-goal attempt off the left goal post in a stunning home overtime loss to South Carolina. At Tennessee, there are still haunting visions of Vols receiver Alton "Pig" Howard stretching across the goal line inside Neyland Stadium, seemingly giving the Vols a shocking upset victory in overtime against Georgia, only for the ball to slip out just before hitting the pylon. Bulldogs kicker Marshall Morgan nailed a game-winning field goal on the ensuing possession.
"Alton was making a play," Tennessee senior linebacker A.J. Johnson said. "If it hadn’t have been for him, we wouldn’t have been in the game. He was making plays for us all through the game, and he was trying to make another play and the ball slipped out. That wasn’t on him -- that was him just trying to make a play and help the team."
Two heartbreaking losses that didn’t exactly define either program, but have left faint scars that could be rubbed away with a little redemption Saturday.
"Missing those [field goals] is a bad feeling, but especially missing one like that last year is unforgettable," said Baggett, who missed two field goals in that game and actually received threats via social media afterward.
"Regardless, I have to make that. When it’s sideways on the ground, I have to hit that."
Both teams went down much different paths after those losses. They both rebounded -- Tennessee upset No. 11 South Carolina two weeks later and Missouri became SEC Eastern Division champion -- but the Vols missed out on being bowl eligible by one win.
Both teams have tried to put the losses behind them, but Saturday does serve as a platform for redemption for both teams. They can squash their demons from last season’s showdowns and get a nice jump in SEC play.
Saturday is the SEC opener for both teams, and wins by both would propel them to the top of the division and help them take a crucial lead on such a topsy-turvy side of the conference.
"This is where it really counts," Johnson said. "Every game really counts on this stretch, because it’s SEC play. We don’t have any SEC losses, so this will be a big win for us."
A Tennessee win against Georgia would show how far this program has come under second-year coach Butch Jones. With a leg up in the divisional race, this season's 34-10 loss to No. 4 Oklahoma would be forgotten.
For Mizzou, this is a chance to regroup after an ugly home loss to unranked Indiana last week. The defense surrendered 241 rushing yards and the offense was atrocious on third downs, converting just 5 of 16 attempts (24 percent).
"It’s kind of a coming-to-Jesus moment for us as a team," redshirt senior offensive lineman Mitch Morse said. "Really figuring out what we need to fix. We can bring more to the table, and that shows that we’re going to this week."
Last season’s loss to South Carolina was the only loss for quarterback Maty Mauk during his month-long stretch of being the Tigers’ starting quarterback, and he sees similarities in last season’s loss and last week’s performance against the Hoosiers.
"The main thing I remember is there was a lot left out there for us," Mauk said. "It was kind of similar to Indiana. There was so much more that we could’ve done, so much left out there, and to know that you were 3 points away in overtime, it’s frustrating.
"That’s going to be the motivation for us this week -- that we want to come out, start fast and finish strong."