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Tennessee Athletics photo by Caleb Jones / Tennessee fifth-year senior quarterback Jarrett Guarantano looks for running room during Saturday's 35-12 dismantling of Missouri inside Neyland Stadium.

When Tennessee fifth-year senior quarterback Jarrett Guarantano was a redshirt freshman in 2017, the Volunteers were thrown into a canyon of irrelevance after a humiliating 41-0 loss to Georgia.

It was more of the same in 2018 and again last season, when 38-12 and 43-14 losses to the Bulldogs saddled Tennessee with 0-2 records in Southeastern Conference play and downgraded expectations to simply aiming for a winning year.

This year is different.

With opening triumphs over South Carolina and Missouri, the Vols are 2-0 and ranked No. 14 in the Associated Press poll entering this week's journey to Athens to face the No. 3 Bulldogs. Georgia smothered No. 7 Auburn 27-6 Saturday night inside Sanford Stadium, but Tennessee had been equally dominant hours earlier in its 35-12 trampling of Mizzou.

That has provided the first top-15 matchup in this series since 2006, when visiting Tennessee spotted Georgia a 24-7 advantage before roaring back for a 51-33 triumph.

"This is going to be big-boy football," Guarantano said Saturday. "Hopefully we'll get to play at 3:30. The spotlight is going to be on us, and it's going to be on us to react and on us to win that football game. It's not about them. It's about us.

"It's great, and I've dreamed of these moments of going against the Georgia, Florida and Alabama teams when I was growing up. The fact I get to be in this is mind blowing, and I thank God every day for it."

Guarantano got his wish Sunday, when CBS selected Tennessee-Georgia as its 3:30 p.m. telecast this Saturday.

Georgia's three recent lopsided victories against the Vols have enabled the Bulldogs to stake a 24-23-2 series edge. Tennessee won the last nine meetings of the 20th century, but Georgia is 14-6 against the Vols since Y2K.

"I'm ready for a dog fight," Tennessee sophomore linebacker Henry To'o To'o said with a smile. "I think we're ready for the challenge, and I think we're up for the challenge. That's what we play in the SEC for. They're a phenomenal team, and we've just got to go out this week and focus on the details and give it everything we've got."

Said Vols third-year coach Jeremy Pruitt: "It's why I came to Tennessee, and it's why these players came to Tennessee. You want to play in games like this, and we're looking forward to it."

Georgia notched its fourth consecutive win over Auburn in front of a socially distanced announced crowd of 20,524. It was the smallest Sanford Stadium audience since an estimated 17,000 showed up in September 1963 to witness the Bulldogs skunk Vanderbilt 20-0 in a driving rain, but there has been no better atmosphere through the first two weekends of the SEC's delayed and shortened season.

"I wasn't expecting the crowd to be like that," Bulldogs redshirt sophomore receiver Kearis Jackson said after his nine-catch, 147-yard evening. "It actually felt like it was a full stadium. It was electrifying, and it felt good to be back in front of the home crowd."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.

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