For the entirety of the 1990s, the Dawgs couldn't buy a win in the Georgia-Tennessee series; now, at least, the rivalry has gotten competitive again, but unfortunately that's because both once-proud programs are struggling to keep their heads above water in the SEC. Two years ago, Georgia went to Knoxville and got humiliated by Lane Kiffin's Vols; last season, Tennessee came to Athens, this time under Derek Dooley, and got suckerpunched by a Bulldog team coming off a four-game losing streak. With promising raw talent at the offensive skill positions but a slew of question marks on defense, the Vols will be under pressure to show improvement in Dooley's second season at the helm, but the Dawgs desperately need a win here to show that they can still make their presence felt in the SEC East race.
BETTER KNOW THE VOLUNTEERS
Coach: Derek Dooley, 6-7 in one year at Tennessee; 23-27 overall
Last season: 6-7, 3-5 SEC; finished 4th in the SEC East
Returning starters for 2011: 13 (seven offense, six defense, zero special teams)
Key returners: RB Tauren Poole, QB Tyler Bray, FS Janzen Jackson, WR Justin Hunter
Key losses: LB Nick Reveiz, DE Gerald Williams, WR Denarius Moore, TE Luke Stocker
Best-case scenario: The Dawgs pound the Vols for a second straight year, with the Bulldog running game, working behind a better-conditioned offensive line, grinding the Tennessee front seven into powder down the stretch. Last year Aaron Murray got to bomb away at the Tennessee secondary in his first game with A.J. Green back and at 100 percent; this year the Dawgs will have Murray but no Green, and there will be much greater pressure for Isaiah Crowell, Washaun Ealey and the rest of the running game to perform. But if the Dawgs can jump out to another fast start -- they led 17-0 after one quarter of last year's game -- they should be able to wear down an already depleted Volunteer defensive front and coast to their first back-to-back wins in the series since 2002-03.
Worst-case scenario: The Dawgs fall victim to the same inertia that doomed them in their last two trips to Knoxville, and they trudge home bearing the bruises of another horror show of a loss. Even now it's hard to explain what happened to the Dawgs in Neyland Stadium in '07 and '09, but whatever the reasons were, the Dawgs will have to work to make sure they don't pop up again. Tyler Bray may have padded his 2010 stats against a late-season schedule of lousy teams, but he'll still be a handful for the struggling Georgia secondary, particularly with Tauren Poole and Justin Hunter, one of the SEC's most exciting young offensive talents, on hand to help him out. Aaron Murray, meanwhile, will be throwing against one of the most physically gifted secondaries in the conference and can't afford to make the kinds of mental errors he did against Florida last year. While a win in this game wouldn't immediately establish the Dawgs as contenders, a loss would signal an ominous turn at a time when Mark Richt really can't afford one.