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SEC Round-Up: Tennessee at Georgia is a rare No. 1 vs. No. 1 matchup

November 3, 2022

Depending on point of view — and points in polls — the much-anticipated Southeastern Conference football clash between Tennessee and Georgia is a matchup of No. 1 vs. No. 2, No. 1 vs. No. 1 or No. 1 vs. No. 3.

Confused? Of course, you are.

Confusion is just as much a part of college football as trophy games and irrelevant bowls.

To explain:

In the recently released College Football Rankings — the only rankings that really matter — Tennessee is ranked No. 1, and Georgia is ranked third.

But in the Associated Press poll, Georgia is No. 1, and Tennessee is tied with Ohio State for No. 2.

Therefore, it could be argued that the showdown in Athens is a unicorn of all college football matchups — No. 1 Tennessee (CFP) vs. No. 1 Georgia (AP).

It’s not just a classic matchup of top-ranked teams. It’s the classic matchup of the irresistible force and the immovable object.

Tennessee boasts the nation’s best offense. The Volunteers lead the country in total yards (553 per game) and scoring (49.4 points per game).

Saul Young/USA Today Network
The Vols’ offense is led by Heisman frontrunner Hendon Hooker, who has passed for 2,338 yards & 21 touchdowns.

“They have good football players playing in space,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “They’re physical and fast.”

That description also applies to Georgia’s defense.

The Bulldogs are fourth in total defense (262.5 yards per game) and second in scoring defense (10.5 points per game).

The Bulldogs are without linebacker Nolan Smith, their leader in sacks, who is lost for the season with a torn pectoral muscle.

Tennessee coach Josh Heupel doesn’t seem to think his absence will have a huge impact on the Georgia defense.

“They’re great fundamentally,” Heupel said. “They do a great job with their eyes and wrapping up. They’re physical. They’ve got great speed on all levels of their defense. It’s typically not just one guy that’s there at the party. There’s a bunch of guys closing in. That space constricts and makes it extremely difficult.”

The winner is all but assured to be the SEC East’s representative in the SEC Championship game to play West winner Alabama… or LSU… or Ole Miss.

Beyond that, the winner will have greatly boosted its chances of getting into the four-team College Football Playoff field.

A victory over an opponent ranked No.1, No. 2 and/or No. 3 certainly enhances a resume.

Such opportunities don’t come often in conference play.

True, college football matchups of No. 1 vs. No. 2 aren’t that uncommon. Indeed, in the BCS and playoff era, matchups of No. 1 vs. No. 2 occur almost annually.

But No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchups don’t often happen in regular-season games. It’s even more unusual when those are regular-season conference games.

In fact, only six times in college football history have the No. 1 and No. 2 ranked teams squared off in conference play. All those games were classics decided by five points or less.

No. 1 Texas defeated No. 2 Arkansas, 15-14, in a 1969 Southwest Conference game.
No. 1 Nebraska defeated No. 2 Oklahoma, 35-31, in a 1971 Big Eight game.
No. 1 Iowa edged No. 2 Michigan, 12-10, in a 1985 Big Ten clash.
No. 1 Ohio State defeated No. 2 Michigan, 42-39, in a 2006 Big Ten game.
No. 1 LSU edged No. 2 Alabama, 9-6, in overtime in a 2011 SEC game.
No. 1 LSU toppled No. 2 Alabama, 46-41, in 2019.

Tennessee vs. Georgia figures to be as closely contested as the previous game No. 1 vs. No. 2 conference games.

Dating back to Oct. 2019, Georgia has won 16 straight home games.

And the closest ever game matching No. 1 vs. No. 1.

Around the SEC

This week’s games: Florida at Texas A&M; Kentucky at Missouri; No. 1 Tennessee at No. 3 Georgia; Liberty at Arkansas; No. 6 Alabama at No. 10 LSU; Auburn at Mississippi State; South Carolina at Vanderbilt.

Who’s hot: Love him or hate him — mostly hate him — Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin is on a roll. He’s 8-1 this season. This after guiding the Rebels to a New Year’s Six bowl last year. In three seasons in Oxford, Kiffin is 23-9. But in his last two seasons, he’s 18-4. If that’s not enough, he’s now projected among the top candidates —if not THE top candidate — to replace ousted Bryan Harsin at Auburn. Kiffin reportedly makes $7.25 million a year at Ole Miss. Auburn likely would have to offer a substantial raise to get him. Ole Miss may have to offer a substantial raise to keep him.

Who’s not: You think A&M has problems stopping the run? Auburn is even worse. The Tigers are 127th in the nation in run defense. They’ve allowed 1,016 rushing yards and 13 rushing touchdowns just in the last three games. Overall, Auburn is allowing an average of 213.3 rushing yards per game.

Keep an eye on: LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels has emerged as a true dual threat of late. In the Tigers’ last three games, he has passed for at least 248 yards and has remained a running threat. In his last game, he rushed for 121 yards and three touchdowns in a victory over Ole Miss. Two games ago, he ran for 44 yards and three touchdowns in a win at Florida. He’ll test the Alabama defense, which is ranked second in the SEC but has been vulnerable at times. Daniels must have a big outing to give LSU a chance to pull off the upset.

The pressure is on: Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher desperately needs a victory to end a four-game losing streak and enhance the Aggies' chances of attaining bowl eligibility. This season has already been disastrous. Failing to achieve bowl eligibility would be catastrophic. Would players transfer? Would recruiting suffer? Those are legitimate concerns. The Aggies need to post at least three victories in their final four games. They face Florida, which also needs a win to boost bowl hopes. A home-field victory over Florida would seemingly put A&M in a position to reach the six-win requirement. Games against struggling Auburn and overmatched UMass follow. But if the Aggies lose, they’d have to win out. That means needing to beat surging LSU in the finale. The Aggies won’t concede a win to LSU, but they obviously don’t want bowl eligibility to be dependent on that game.

Best matchup: This one is easy. As previously mentioned, Tennessee’s offense vs. Georgia’s defense. The Volunteers average 49.4 points to lead the nation in scoring. Georgia gives up an average of just 10.5 points to rank second in the country in points allowed.

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SEC Round-Up: Tennessee at Georgia is a rare No. 1 vs. No. 1 matchup

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