Tennessee fans who travel to Athens might want to swing by Atlanta to scout out some hotels on the way back home if the Vols are able to knock off Georgia on Saturday (3:30 pm ET, CBS).
The race for the SEC East would be far from over, but Tennessee (4-0, 1-0 SEC) would find itself in a great position in the standings with a win at Georgia (3-1, 0-1 SEC).
It’s early, but I can say this much as fact: A win on Saturday puts UT in a position where it can actually lose the next two games at Texas A&M and against Alabama in Knoxville, and still win the East as long as the Vols beat South Carolina, Missouri, Kentucky and Vanderbilt, AND Florida loses at least one more conference game (at Vandy, LSU, Missouri, Georgia, at Arkansas, South Carolina).
Add in a win for UT over either A&M or Alabama in that scenario and UT 100% controls its own destiny down the stretch. All that to say, Tennessee is in great early-season shape with a win in Athens on Saturday.
A loss, however, changes the picture dramatically.
The Bulldogs would own the head-to-head tiebreaker against the Vols, meaning Tennessee would have very little margin for error the rest of the season, and would likely need the Bulldogs to drop at least two more SEC games. Georgia’s already played some of its toughest conference games and has a relatively easy conference slate remaining: at South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Florida (neutral site), at Kentucky and Auburn.
A loss to Georgia essentially makes either Texas A&M or Alabama a must-win for UT. Tennessee simply can’t bank on Georgia losing three of its remaining conference games. The best-case scenario for UT, should it lose to UGA, A&M and Bama, would be to hope for a three-team tie with likely Florida, Georgia and UT all at 5-3 in conference. Depending on who else Florida and Georgia lose to, the Vols would have a shot to back-door their way in that way. It’s not a great path, however.
Ultimately, this is all more for media and fans to worry about. It’s too early in the season for the teams to get caught up in standings at this point in the year. Win and they’ll take care of themselves.
But the reality of a brutal two-game stint against arguably the top couple teams in the SEC for UT, in addition to a softer turn on Georgia’s schedule means the Vols need this one badly. A win gives the Vols some much-needed breathing room, while a loss will really turn up the pressure the next couple weeks.