Welp, you tell me.
And if this happens, it probably won’t be Heupel’s high-octane offense that ultimately proves the difference in turning last season’s respectable 7-6 record into something noticeably better this time around. Not to shortchange Heupel, but when your offense averaged the seventh-most points scored in the Football Bowl Subdivision last season (39.3), you probably don’t have much higher you can go in that category.
However, when your defense gives up 29.1 points a game — 90th out of 130 FBS programs — you have almost nowhere to go but up. And if you expect to finish much north of 7-6, such improvement will probably have to come on that side of the ball — especially when your average margin of victory against FBS foes was only 6.4 points, which ranked 40th.
… Since Georgia doesn’t face Alabama in the regular season — Georgia’s West opponents are Auburn and Mississippi State — the only likely route to the league championship game for the Vols is to win in Athens, with a loss to Alabama affordable if they beat the Bulldogs.
It’s unlikely, but the very fact that players are willing to bring it up publicly bodes well for their attitude if nothing else. Also, unlike last season, when Georgia’s defense was so stout and impenetrable that quarterback Stetson Bennett didn’t have to do much more than not turn it over, this newspaper’s 2022 Best of Preps speaker will likely have to manufacture some offense this time around for the Dawgs.
Bennett’s capable — just ask Alabama about the last eight minutes of the national championship game — but with UT’s offense expected to be at least as good as last year’s model and Georgia’s D falling back to earth a bit, a more competitive UT defense should give the Vols something of a puncher’s chance, especially with their trip to Athens one week after the Dawgs’ annual showdown with Florida in Jacksonville.
If nothing else, assuming the Vols can avoid losing to Florida and LSU, it should keep Big Orange Country dreaming big dreams into November.
One of the more amusing themes on the punditry front of late is the constant search for which East teams will be capable of tripping up Georgia. Somehow, it’s something of a given that the Vols are going to be able to avoid the land mines that the Dawgs won’t.