Ranking the games: Volunteering the No. 7 choice

semerson@macon.comJune 16, 2012 

NOTE: This is part of our series ranking Georgia's most important games in 2012, beginning with the least important, and continuing on to No. 1.

The criteria for ranking the games follows this basic criteria: Their role in shaping the ultimate success (or not) of the season, but with consideration given to rivalry, context of season, and caliber of opponent.

No. 12 was Florida Atlantic.

No. 11 was Georgia Southern.

No. 10 was Buffalo.

No. 9 was Ole Miss.

No. 8 was Kentucky

Next up is ...

7. TENNESSEE

THE BASICS: LAST YEAR’S RECORD: 5-7 overall, 1-7 SEC

RETURNING OFFENSIVE STARTERS: 10

RETURNING DEFENSIVE STARTERS: 8

WHEN: Sept. 29 (Georgia’s fifth game)

HOW THINGS WILL LOOK THEN: Georgia will in all likelihood either be 4-0 or 3-1, based on its early-season schedule. (Missouri being the swing game, unless the Vanderbilt home game proves to be an upset.) Tennessee would seem likely to have at least two wins, and swing games against N.C. State and Florida (at home). This won’t be the Volunteers’ first trip to Georgia: That opener is at the Georgia Dome). This could also be the first game back for Bulldog safety Bacarri Rambo, should his four-game suspension be upheld.

LEVEL OF IMPORTANCE: Some, but not as much as others. It’s a statement on the state of the Volunteer program, and the expectations for 2012, that it’s not higher on this list, and not even the most important against a team from the state of Tennessee. Of course, the game could end up mattering a lot to Derek Dooley and his Athens-based parents. Dooley, like Kentucky’s Joker Phillips, is facing pressure entering his third year. It also doesn’t help that Tennessee has a new athletics director in Dave Hart, who came from Alabama – and therefore should know Kirby Smart fairly well. Tennessee should be better this year, but this is another game for Georgia that, if it is going to have a big season, this one needs to be a win.

MORE ABOUT TENNESSEE: QB Tyler Bray got hurt near the end of last year’s game against Georgia, missing the next five games. A healthy season could allow Bray to push Georgia’s Aaron Murray and Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson for first-team All-SEC. The Vols’ passing attack will be the strength of the offense, thanks to Bray and receivers Justin Hunter and Da’Rick Rogers. (And yes, Rogers is still currently on the Tennessee roster.)

WHO TO WATCH: Sal Sunseri, who is Tennessee’s new defensive coordinator. Sunseri was the linebackers coach at Alabama before Dooley picked him to take over a defense that was ninth in the SEC last year. Previous coordinator Justin Wilcox wasn’t fired – he left for Washington, closer to home, and to be fair the Vols weren’t horrible on defense. They were 28th in the country. But how much does Sunseri have to work with? There aren’t any obvious stars on that side of the ball. And as Georgia learned in Todd Grantham’s first year, the transition to a 3-4 doesn’t work overnight.

LAST TIME THEY PLAYED: Georgia won in Knoxville, 20-12, with the Volunteers making it interesting with a late touchdown, after Bray was hurt.

THIS TIME: Perhaps the return of Bray and a revamped defense will make the Vols a much better team. And there’s always the rivalry factor. But the best bet is Georgia making it three in a row against Tennessee.

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