Who knew all it would take for the Vols to be propelled into the SEC East driver’s seat was a Hail Mary victory over Georgia?
The odds were stacked heavily against Tennessee after Georgia quarterback Jacob Eason completed a 47-yard touchdown pass with 10 seconds left in the game to give the Bulldogs a 31-28 lead.
Incredible. According to ESPN’s win probability, UGA had a 99.9% chance of winning after Eason’s 47-yard TD pass. Vols defy the odds again. pic.twitter.com/z9u1GqSMPX
— Rocky Top Insider (@rockytopinsider) October 2, 2016
But then Josh Dobbs connected with Jauan Jennings on a 43-yard Hail Mary touchdown with no time left on the clock, and the Vols left Athens, Georgia with a 34-31 victory.
Tennessee’s win pushed them to 5-0 overall and 2-0 in the SEC with wins over Florida and Georgia, their biggest SEC East rivals. Those two teams were also regarded as the only real threats to the Vols in their pursuit of an East crown this season. And now Tennessee owns victories over them both.
For the first time since arguably 1998, the Vols are in complete control of the SEC East. Tennessee beat Florida in 2004 then dropped their next conference game to Auburn. The Vols wouldn’t lose another conference game that season, but a 1-1 SEC start wasn’t as commanding as this year’s. Tennessee did jump out to a 2-0 conference record in 2003 with wins over Florida and South Carolina, but losses to Auburn and Georgia the following weeks put a damper on things.
The Vols started out 2-0 in the SEC in 2001 then lost to Georgia after wins over Florida and LSU. That would end up being Tennessee’s only loss in the conference in the regular season, but a loss to a division foe that early put doubt on their East standing initially.
But for the first time since 1998, the Vols own victories over their top two SEC East rivals within the first five weeks of the season without a loss to another team in between.
However you want to slice it, the Vols are now the front-runners in the East now. If the Vols can find a way to win at least one of their next two games against Texas A&M and Alabama and take care of business down the stretch against the rest of their SEC East opponents, they will win the East. If Tennessee loses two conference games at any point, they’ll have to hope for Florida to lose one more in order to keep their tiebreaker advantage over them.
Regardless, the Vols control their own destiny in the SEC East. And right now, they’re sitting up front in the driver’s seat.