The Big Orange is on the verge of falling off the college football map after stumbling to a 2-3 start. One of the losses came at the hands of UCLA, which has lost three of four games since. Moreover, UT's victories came at the expense of football non-entities UAB and Northern Illinois, and even those were unimpressive.
As a result, Tennessee's relevance on the national scene has just about vanished. Naturally, knocking off a top-10 team like preseason No. 1 Georgia would restore some luster to a season gone sour. That makes today's 3:30 kickoff at Sanford Stadium a critical game for Tennessee.
"It's obvious," head coach Phillip Fulmer said. "It's a very huge game for us. It's a VERY important football game."
John Chavis also thinks beating an elite team would be a major step for the Vols.
"The importance of winning is always there," Tennessee's defensive coordinator said. "Considering where we are now, if you're able to do that (beat a top-10 team), that's a big statement. We need that kind of win for our program and for our kids. Confidence is a big issue when you look at playing well throughout a season. I think our guys have confidence right now. We've got to go out and play with confidence."
Given that Georgia is ranked No. 10 nationally and playing at home against an unranked Tennessee team, only a select few believe the Vols can win. Chavis is among the select few.
"Do you expect to win? Yeah, we expect to win," he said. "That's what we're working for. It'll be a tough, physical football game. We know that. We know Georgia's an outstanding football team that can beat anybody. In my opinion, they're worthy of being in the top five. There's no question about that. They have that kind of talent and they're well-coached."
Tennessee struggled out of the starting gate in 2007 but used a 35-14 defeat of Georgia as a springboard to go 8-2 the rest of the way. Perhaps a victory today could provide the impetus for a similar turnaround in 2008.
"Winning helps build confidence. Those things go together," Chavis said. "When you're able to win, you gain a lot more confidence. Then I think you see a team grow and play even better."