Home Sweet Home?

If rest, reflection and repletion are a recipe for recovery Saturday's game against Georgia is Tennessee's last best chance to rebound from a regrettable start and put together a remarkable rally.

Coming off the team's only open date in the 2007 football campaign, the Volunteers will be better rested and have more time to prepare than any contest since the season opener at Cal. However, unlike that game, a young UT team now has four games under its belt and are playing at home.

Perhaps the best way to summarize the importance of Tennessee's contest against Georgia this weekend is to say the outcome of two seasons and several coaching careers could hang in the balance.

For sure the Vols chances of winning the SEC East Division depend on beating the Bulldogs, and by way any shot they have at capturing their first Conference title since 1998. Certainly there is no indication from any official source that Phillip Fulmer's job is on the line, but unprecedented rumbling is emanating from Big Orange Country which clearly indicates patience is growing thin among the masses. It's the type of restlessness that might require more than a winning season to soothe.

Moreover UT needs a showcase victory at home on network television against a ranked team to hold the interest of high-profile prospects currently considering the Vols. Prior outings this year against California and Florida on ABC and CBS, respectively, raised more questions than they answered, but an impressive win over No. 12 Georgia would do a lot to restore respectability to UT's gridiron program.

The significance of this year's UTK-UGA meeting can't be fully realized unless seen in a prism of the last half decade. During that span the Vols own only two victories over ranked teams at Neyland Stadium — No. 11 Florida in 2004 and No. 9 California in 2006.

By comparison the Vols have lost eight home games to ranked teams during that same time period including: No. 10 Florida, No. 18 Alabama and No. 2 Miami in 2002, No. 8 Georgia in 2003, No. 8 Auburn in 2005, No. 7 Florida and No. 13 LSU in 2006.

Over that period the Vols are 1-2 against ranked teams at neutral sites with a win over No. 22 Texas A&M in the 2004 Cotton Bowl with a 38-28 to No. 3 Auburn in the 2004 SEC title game and a loss to No. 20 Maryland in the 2002 Peach Bowl.

Overall in road, home and neutral site games against ranked teams, Tennessee was 0-5 in 2002; 2-1 in 2003, 2-2 in 2004, 1-4 in 2005 and 2-4 in 2006 and 0-2 in 2007. That's an overall record of 7-18 against all ranked teams played from 2002 to this point with only two home wins over ranked teams in five seasons.

Another distressing point about Tennessee's home defeats is the ease with which opponents have prevailed. The average score in those eight home losses is 30.1 to 17.5 and that includes the 21-20 and 28-24 setbacks to Florida and LSU in 2007. The other six home defeats were 30-13 (Florida), 34-14 (Alabama), 26-3 (Miami), 41-14 (Georgia), 34-10 (Auburn) and 27-14 (Georgia).

No team in the last decade has caused more of UT's woes in Knoxville than the Bulldogs, who have won the last three meetings against the Vols on The Hill. An argument could easily be crafted that Georgia cost Tennessee BCS bowls with wins in 2001 and 2003 when the Vols finished 11-2 and 10-2 in regular season play, while UGA's win in 2005 definitely cost the 5-6 Vols a winning season and a bowl appearance.

As damaging as those defeats were to Tennessee's pride, prestige and championship aspirations a win by Georgia in 2007 could be the most costly of all.


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