Tennessee football: Rankings, GameDay make Georgia matchup to be historic

Smokey runs the end zone during Tennessee's game against Kentucky at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn., on Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022.Kns Vols Kentucky Bp
Smokey runs the end zone during Tennessee's game against Kentucky at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn., on Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022.Kns Vols Kentucky Bp /

It didn’t become as clear-cut as it should have been, but Tennessee football still about to play the most historic regular season game in the history of the program. That’s based on the rankings, the record and everything that is at stake going into the matchup.

The Vols will visit the Georgia Bulldogs Saturday, and yes, it’s a No. 2 vs. No. 1 matchup. Josh Heupel’s team, although staying at No. 3 in the Coaches Poll after their 44-6 win over the Kentucky Wildcats, moved up to No. 2 in the AP Poll, leapfrogging the Ohio State Buckeyes.

UGA stayed No. 1 in both polls. ESPN College GameDay is headed to Athens, Ga., for this matchup. They announced with a video on Twitter before Saturday night even ended that they would be there, and yes, it’s another 3:30 p.m. ET CBS kickoff.

Ohio State struggling with the Penn State Nittany Lions while Tennessee football beat a fifth ranked team this year should’ve pushed the Vols up to No. 2 in both polls, but the respect is still there. This marks the third time the Vols have been part of a College GameDay matchup this year.

To be fair, that’s not as new as you might think. They were part of three in 2016. However, that was part of a 5-0 start before their season collapsed in the end, and the final one was the first of a three-game losing streak they would suffer.

Anyway, this is the highest combined regular season matchup the Vols will have ever taken part in. The closest to it is 1956, when they were ranked No. 2 in the AP Poll and took on the No. 3 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. By the way, they won that game.

On the other side, it’s also the highest combined regular season matchup UGA has ever taken part in. Again, their closest was a No. 2 vs. No. 3 matchup. In 1942, while ranked No. 2, they faced the No. 3 Alabama Crimson Tide, and like the Vols in 1956, they won that game.

As far as No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchups, only two this century come close in the SEC. One is Alabama against the LSU Tigers in 2019, and the other was Alabama and LSU in 2011, the game that finished with a 9-6 LSU win in overtime.

By far, this is the biggest SEC East game since the divisions split in 1992. None of Tennessee football’s matchups with the Florida Gators reach this level of magnitude. The change in the AP Poll ranking was enough to do that.

Of course, the College Football Playoff ranking is still on the horizon, and unless Ohio State is No. 1, it’s hard to see this not being the highest combined ranking still in regular season history for both teams when you factor that into play. Again, you can’t understate the magnitude.

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Win or lose, Josh Heupel has truly worked a miracle to get Tennessee football to this point. Nobody saw that coming 20 months ago. Honestly, it was hard to see this coming two months ago, but here the Vols are. They are about to play in one of the biggest regular season games in November in college football history.