Over the last few seasons, the Tennessee-Georgia series has been one of the more highly contested rivalries in the SEC. The last six match-ups have been decided by a single score dating back to 2011, and the two teams have split the last four meetings.
But is Georgia the most competitive rival in the SEC for Tennessee?
Since the SEC split into divisions in 1992, the Vols have won 14 of the 25 meetings against the Bulldogs. That 14-11 record is easily the most contested record the Vols have against any annual SEC opponent in that time (excluding Missouri who just joined the conference in 2012). But the margin of victory in those games hasn’t been the slimmest among the Vols’ primary opponents.
The average margin of victory for whomever wins the contest between the Vols and Bulldogs is 13.1 points since 1992. Aside from their series with Alabama, that’s the highest margin among the Vols’ top rivals.
But how else does the Georgia series compare to the Vols’ other rivals?
For comparison, I also looked at Tennessee’s series with Florida, Alabama, and even South Carolina because those match-ups have historically been fairly close, especially over the last decade.
Tennessee’s rivalry with Florida has been much more competitive recently, and it was in the late 1990s and early 2000s as well. A patch of domination by the Gators from 2005-15 sways the numbers significantly in their favor, however. Florida holds a 20-6 record against the Vols since 1992 (including this year’s game), and the average margin of victory in the series is actually the lowest in divisional play for Tennessee. The rivalry has been decided by just 11.5 points per contest.
Alabama has dominated the Vols as of late, but that gets almost balanced out by Tennessee’s domination in the 1990s. Overall, Alabama holds a 14-10-1 edge over the Vols, and the margin of victory is the highest of any of Tennessee’s main rivals at 15.4 points per game.
South Carolina used to be an annual victory for Tennessee. But once Steve Spurrier took over, things changed, and the Gamecocks have been much more competitive with the Vols. Tennessee holds an 18-7 advantage over South Carolina since 1992, but six of those seven wins for South Carolina have come since 2005. The average margin of victory is actually lower than the Georgia series as well, coming in at 12.4 points per game.
It’s one thing to look at a longer history of these rivalries, but how have they been more recently? How competitive have these series been since Butch Jones took over in 2013?
Alabama has easily been the least competitive rivalry for the Vols in the Butch Jones era. In fact, that rivalry hasn’t been competitive since Nick Saban took over. But in Jones’ four meetings with the Tide, Alabama has won all four and has done so by an average of 23.3 points.
Florida owns a 4-1 record against Jones’ Tennessee squads including this season’s 26-20 victory in Gainesville. The average margin of victory in the Florida series under Jones’ watch has been just 6.4 points per game.
The Georgia series has been decided by one score in every meeting in the Butch Jones era. Tennessee is 2-2 against Georgia under Butch Jones (pending this Saturday’s result), and the average margin of victory is just four points per game.
But the series with Georgia actually hasn’t been the closest one since Butch Jones arrived. That distinction somewhat surprisingly belongs to South Carolina.
Every single game against South Carolina in the Butch Jones era has been decided by three points or less. Tennessee is 3-1 against the Gamecocks under Jones, and the average margin of victory is a minuscule 2.8 points.
All in all, Georgia appears to be the most competitive rivalry the Vols have. The record is the most even, and the margin of victory is fairly slim, especially in the Butch Jones era. South Carolina may be playing the Vols closer over the last few years, but historically Tennessee has beaten the Gamecocks much more than not.
Georgia comes in as the No. 7 team in the country this weekend, but rankings have mattered little in this rivalry. If history holds true, this Saturday’s match-up should be another closely contested game.