There are a lot of games you could say are the most important for Tennessee in 2011.
Florida is our most hated rival and will be our first big game.
Alabama is our oldest rivalry and maybe our toughest game.
LSU will be our biggest chance for a big upset, and we'll get revenge for last year.
The streak cannot end against Kentucky.
Yes, all of these are important, but not quite as important as the Georgia game will be. Don't buy it? Well, here are five reasons that Tennessee-Georgia will be the most important game on the Vols schedule this year.
Last year, after the heartbreaking LSU loss, Tennessee went down to Athens to play Georgia and got killed. Georgia embarrassed Tennessee 41-14, and the Vols had to go home with their tails between their legs.
This year, Tennessee gets to host Georgia, and you can bet that everyone in Neyland Stadium will remember how much it hurts to lose a close game and then get embarrassed. Furthermore, most of the guys on the Vols squad this year are the same ones that played against Georgia last year. They'll remember the sting of that loss even more than the fans will.
Tennessee will play this game passionately, and I think we'll come out ahead.
I think 40 is about the right ranking for Tennessee in the preseason. There is a lot of potential for greatness, but as of right now, nothing has been proven on the field. Until it is, the 40th spot is about right.
But you know what wouldn't be, right? If an unproven team like Tennessee that was 6-7 for the season, 3-5 in the SEC and lost their bowl game somehow managed to be ranked 22nd in the Coaches Poll. That'd be crazy, wouldn't it? Oh, wait. That happened.
Georgia and Tennessee are similar teams: they have great young quarterbacks, they had disappointing years last year and there's the potential for greatness. However, the media seems to be buying the Georgia hype hook, line and sinker.
When Tennessee plays Georgia, they will show which team is the contender and which is the pretender. Georgia has no business at No. 22, and Tennessee needs to remind them of that.
One thing I'll say for Georgia: Aaron Murray is a stud quarterback. You now who else is? Tyler Bray.
Bray and Murray are both great quarterbacks, and both deserve the praise that they get. You can bet that next year, when both quarterbacks are juniors, this will be on College GameDay. Both quarterbacks have the potential to be first-round picks in the 2013 draft, so seeing them square off against each other will be a thriller.
Whether you're rooting for Georgia or for Tennessee, this game will feature two of the best young quarterbacks in the SEC. That's worth seeing.
Expect both Bray and Murray to be on top of their respective games and put up big numbers. By the end of this duel, we'll have a much better idea of who the better quarterback is and a big reason to be even more excited about the rematch in 2012.
At best, Tennessee will be 4-0 when it faces Georgia. However, three of those wins will be against Montana, Cincinnati and Buffalo—not exactly a great group. If Tennessee beats Florida, then that could be a big win, but not on the same level as the Georgia game.
Before Tennessee, Georgia will have played Boise State, South Carolina and Mississippi State. Unless Georgia is overranked (I think they might be), they'll have a very impressive group of wins there.
If Georgia beats Boise State in the season opener, then expect even more Georgia hype to follow and their rank to go up.
I don't think Georgia comes into this game undefeated; in fact, I'd be shocked if they did. That said, if Georgia only has one loss to that group of teams, then they'll certainly look more intimidating than even an undefeated Tennessee. If that happens, Tennessee has a chance to prove itself as a legitimate contender and grab a signature win.
After hosting Georgia, Tennessee goes through the roughest part of the schedule. The next week, Tennessee will host LSU, who will likely still be a top 10 team.
After that, Tennessee travels to Alabama, who starts out this year as the second-ranked team in the country.
Following that, Tennessee hosts defending SEC East champion South Carolina. They start the season ranked No. 12.
That's a tough series of games. If Tennessee wins more than one of those, it'll be a miracle. However, if Tennessee goes into this stretch having already topped Georgia, then Tennessee will suddenly be a more confident, more threatening team.
All four of Tennessee's weak out of conference games will have already been played, so that's four wins. If Tennessee beats both Georgia and Florida, then Tennessee comes into this tough series as an undefeated team. If Tennessee beats one but not the other, then Tennessee still comes in 5-1.
If you're gonna have a loss against all those teams, it'd be best to have that loss be as far away as possible. An early loss would be better for Tennessee's confidence than a more recent one.
A win against Georgia puts Tennessee squarely at 5-1 before facing LSU at home. That makes an upset way more likely and a great season all but guaranteed. And that's why Georgia is Tennessee's most important opponent next year.