Tennessee Vols, UGA step into national spotlight

photo Tennessee linebacker A.J. Johnson returns an interception against the Aggies.
photo Georgia quarterback Hutson Mason (14) looks to throw the ball against Georgia Tech.

WATCH ON TV• Georgia-South Carolina, 3:30 p.m., CBS• Tennessee-Oklahoma, 8 p.m., ABC

Tennessee and Georgia go on the road and straight into the spotlight of the college football world today.

The Vols (2-0) head to Norman, Okla., for a prime-time, nationally televised game against No. 4-ranked Oklahoma, which is among the favorites to be in the inaugural college football playoff.

The No. 6-ranked Georgia Bulldogs could grab full control of the SEC East race at No. 24 South Carolina in the day's only match-up between ranked teams.

"It's an important game, and it's been an important game since the day I got here," Georgia coach Mark Richt told reporters this week. "More people are interested in the game because both teams have a chance to win the East, so I think there is more of a focal point on this game from a national level, but I think before that it was still a pretty heated rivalry to me."

The focus is different for the Vols, who are three-touchdown underdogs to the powerful Sooners, who are 88-5 in Norman under coach Bob Stoops.

"I don't know what else to tell you other than the results that they've had speak for themselves," UT coach Butch Jones said this week during his regular meeting with the media. "They back it up. The results speak for themselves."

A win would be a high-water moment for Jones and Co. during the program's recent run of mediocrity.

Tennessee is just 2-28 against ranked opponents since the start of the 2008 season, with wins over a ranked South Carolina team in 2009 and 2013. In that time the Vols have had just one winning season - 7-6 in 2009 - and are 33-41 overall under four different coaches.

Tennessee has not beaten a top-five foe since beating then No. 4-ranked LSU in 2005.

"I know we haven't given teams much to respect in the past few years in terms of beating ranked opponents," UT quarterback Justin Worley said this week, "but I just want these guys to understand that we can go into a hostile environment and beat a team this year."

Contact staff writer Jay Greeson at jgreeson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6273.

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