Last season, one of my favorite weeks to write about was the seven days surrounding the Georgia game. The days leading up to the game were full of doubt and negativity after the big losses at Cal and Florida, with Fulmer's career and standing seemingly hanging in the balance. Then on gameday, the Vols obliterated Georgia, and when combined with LSU's win over Florida, Tennessee found itself in first place in the SEC East. Everything changed in one day. And those Vols went on to win the Eastern Division.
One year later, Georgia week rolls around again. And here we are again.
It's the same and it's different. The Vols haven't been blown out twice, but did take a beating from the Gators again inbetween two excruciating close losses. It hasn't been a paper-thin defense that's been the problem, it's been an almost completely inefficient offense.
In many ways it's worse. The Vols have lost thrice instead of twice as they meet Georgia, and are still two games behind the Gators (and Vanderbilt) in the SEC East race. Erik Ainge is gone, and we're still getting to know Nick Stephens. And all of these factors have led to a percentage of the fanbase (and probably the donors and the power brokers) having given up on Fulmer already, no matter how many games he wins the rest of the season.
But it's also still true that if...IF...the Vols somehow find a way to win in Athens on Saturday, 2008 isn't over yet.
Make no mistake: if Tennessee loses at Georgia, by 1 or 100, their chances of winning the SEC East are zero. 0-3 in the conference is a death sentence, especially when two of those losses are to Florida and Georgia. If the Vols lose and drop to 2-4, this year becomes a lot about next, and the Vols will simply scramble to try to get bowl eligible.
But if...if...Tennessee can beat Georgia, they'll be alive for at least another week. This season will still be relevant instead of just a glimpse of what might happen next year. And the Vols would need two losses from Florida - who still has LSU and the rest of the East Division to play - to get back in the race.
I'm not at all saying Tennessee is likely to finish with eight straight wins and miraculously win the division again. I'm not talking about our odds of beating Alabama because all we can do right now is play Georgia. I don't know what's going to happen with Nick Stephens or Phillip Fulmer.
But I do know that it's always important to be relevant. Win on Saturday, and you still are. Lose, and we spent all summer waiting for a season that flamed out in six weeks, and we'll be playing out the string from this point on.
Fulmer may already be lost (though keep in mind, his contract calls for an extension with an 8-4 regular season, which is still on the table). But this season doesn't have to be. Not yet.
The crossroads aren't as dramatic now as it was then...but it's still become the most important game of our season.
And while there's nothing much to like about the Tennessee offense, let's also remember that Tennessee has outscored Georgia 72-23 in the last six quarters. And this defense, I believe, is good enough to win every week. There's nothing I've seen that makes me afraid of Stafford, Moreno or any of the other guys on offense. Georgia had been living on a false sense of entitlement since last season, and against Alabama it caught up with them. They're good, yes, but they weren't nearly as good as originally advertised. So how good are they really?
Frankly, our offense is frightening enough without even having to worry about Georgia's defense. Tennessee will need something special to win, no doubt. The Dawgs are 13 point favorites.
Can Tennessee make it three in a row and four out of five against Georgia? Will the Vols keep their season alive, or stay comatose?
We arrive at the crossroads again and stare Georgia in the face across the street.
Can the Vols make Georgia blink again?