By Frank Gale
Goodbye September. The Vols have left that month three years in a row without a losing record. Unfortunately, it is not September that determines whether the Vols will have a decent season; rather, it is usually October. On paper, the Vols have a monumental undertaking staring straight at them during this month.
Only a non-conference victory two years ago saved the Vols’ last coach from going ‘zero’ for October in his three-year stint at UT. It was a winning October in 2007 that catapulted Tennessee to their last trip to the SEC Championship game in Atlanta.
The sixth-ranked Georgia Bulldogs arrive at Neyland Stadium tomorrow still harboring hopes of competing for a championship this season. That does not bode well for the Big Orange, even if they will be clad in grey this weekend; however, that does not mean that Vol fans should not have hope.
Coach Butch Jones tried to get the week started on a high note with what he termed as “Positive Monday." Highlighting the accomplishments of Team #117 is important, but victories in the SEC are what really matter to the Big Orange Nation.
Georgia will feature one of the best quarterbacks the Vols might compete against this season. Aaron Murray will lead a team into Neyland Stadium tomorrow that returns 49 letterman, including 16 starters, from a 2012 squad that was 12-2 and finished in the top five in the country. That is the bad news.
The good news — the Vols have played Georgia tough here in recent years. Remember 2007, when an unranked Tennessee team ambushed the 12th-ranked 'Dawgs in Knoxville. Then, there was last year in Athens, when the Vols threatened to pull an upset before late turnovers scuttled that dream.
The Vols do have several players that have experienced success against Georgia during their time on Rocky Top. Rajion Neal and Daniel McCullers both had great games last year in Athens. Tomorrow, they will have to lead the way once again if there is to be any hope for an October surprise.
Jim Butler will be an interested spectator tomorrow night when his Commodores host an undefeated, but still untested, Missouri team. Maybe the team to our west can get that first SEC victory and make Jim a happy fan, at least temporarily.
The Vols hold a slim 21-19-2 overall advantage in this series and have prevailed in two of the last three meetings in Knoxville. This is one of those “border” games where you can usually disregard national rankings and records.
Tomorrow, the Vols will don their new "Smokey Grey" uniforms for the first time. Obviously, Butch Jones certainly feels the Vols have a chance to pull an upset or he would have delayed the uniform debut. Remember, Coach Jones never does anything without a calculated reason. Sure, it will take more than just neat uniforms to pull an early October surprise, but then it can’t hurt either, Go Vols!
(Frank Gale is a Chronicle correspondent and his column appears regularly.)
The Tennessee Vols said good bye to September with a 31-24 victory over South Alabama last Saturday and will host the No. 6-ranked Georgia Bulldogs tomorrow at 2:30 p.m. CDT. At left, Rajion Neal had a career-long, 53-yard run against South Alabama last Saturday. Neal will lead the underdog Vols into their second SEC contest. At right, tight end A.J. Branisel caught his first touchdown pass last Saturday against South Alabama. He is one of the 22 freshmen to contribute on the field for the Vols this season. Tennessee is 3-2 overall and 0-1 in the SEC and has an open date Oct. 12, before they host South Carolina Oct. 19.