They are supposed to be taking a step back in 2023 without Hendon Hooker. However, instead, Tennessee football is facing the monumental task of saving the college football world from what nobody wants.
The Vols are the only team who can stop the Georgia Bulldogs from three-peating, at least in the regular season. No pressure, Josh Heupel and Joe Milton III.
Coming off their 65-7 win over the TCU Horned Frogs, Georgia enters 2023 the same way the Alabama Crimson Tide entered 2013 or the USC Trojans entered 2005. Both of those teams were gunning for three-peats and had their star quarterbacks returning.
Now, Stetson Bennett leaving makes Georgia different from USC and Alabama. However, despite him being a Heisman finalist, everybody knows Kirby Smart has built a program where he can just plug in a new quarterback.
Georgia’s recent success was the natural result of the greatest recruiting class in history. They have a ton of talent coming back and may be even better on paper.
It’s not just the talent that seems to make them a lock for the title again, though. Their schedule is, well, horrendous. Georgia’s first four games are at home. Three are against the UT-Martin Skyhawks, Ball State Cardinals and UAB Blazers.
Yes, they do face what appears to be a much-improved South Carolina Gamecocks team at home in there as well. Was the end of 2022 just a flash in the pan for Shane Beamer, though? Even if it wasn’t, does he have near the horses to compete at UGA?
Obviously he doesn’t. After those four games, the Dawgs visit an Auburn Tigers team that has a first-year head coach. Then they host a Kentucky Wildcats team that was mediocre this year and will be worse next year before visiting the Vanderbilt Commodores.
There’s no doubt they’ll be 7-0 before their bye week with that slate. Coming out of it, they face a Florida Gators team struggling to keep its program together under Billy Napier on a neutral field. This isn’t the old days anymore. UGA is back to owning Florida.
After 2022, they won’t struggle in their next game, at home against the Missouri Tigers. Their final regular season game, meanwhile, is against a Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets team going through a coaching change.
As a result, the season comes down to two November games before Georgia Tech. First, they host the Ole Miss Rebels. Then they will visit Tennessee football.
Of the two, there’s no doubt the Vols have the best chance to knock them off. Lane Kiffin is a great coach and has some solid talent, but Ole Miss doesn’t have near the horses to compete with UGA.
Meanwhile, playing the game at Sanford Stadium will be too much. The only way you could maybe give Ole Miss a better shot than the Vols is if you say the Dawgs will be overlooking them in anticipation of the Vols.
Still, Georgia has to travel to Neyland Stadium next year. There won’t be the same talk there was this year about a potential upset given the way they handled the Vols so easily. As a result, Smart’s team may be less focused.
Simply put, Tennessee football is the best chance to knock off the Dawgs in the regular season. If they lose one game, they may not have a case for the playoff given this slate. However, they are likely to coast until November.
Coasting can be a huge advantage too. Sure, a team could pick up bad habits, but they also stay healthy because they can consistently pull their starters by halftime. That’s how the Clemson Tigers won two national titles.
Georgia is going to do the same thing next year, and that means they’ll be the freshest team once again come postseason. It’s up to the Vols to somehow stop them.