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Tennessee coach Butch Jones speaks to the media at the Southeastern Conference NCAA college football media days, Tuesday, July 12, 2016, in Hoover, Ala. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

HOOVER, Ala. — Kirby Smart's SEC media days debut was pretty uneventful Tuesday.

Butch Jones's fourth trip to this Birmingham suburb was equally cut-and-dried.

Granted, success and failure in front of microphones and cameras matter little. Winning the Wynfrey comes with no rings or trophies. There are no game balls from the ballroom.

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Jay Greeson

Still, the coincidence of Smart and Jones and their player representatives from Georgia and Tennessee being here on the same day seems cosmic in a lot of ways. It's a precursor of course to the rematch of last year's Tennessee thrilling win, which featured a three-touchdown comeback and kind of righted a Vols season that was teetering on the verge of emotional breakdown.

"That was a big one for us, yes, sir," Tennessee defensive back Cam Sutton said Tuesday. "That win really kind of showed a lot of people what we were capable of."

That loss, at least in part, helped grease the rails on which Georgia pushed out 15-year coach Mark Richt. He was winning 10 games almost every year, but being good — even occasionally very good — is far from being great, and that's what the Bulldogs and their fans are expecting.

So the Tennessee trip to Georgia in early October will have the roles flipped, with the Vols wearing the 15-point crown of the hunted and the Bulldogs, with their offensive question marks and uncertainty at quarterback, welcoming the chance.

"Last year took a loss and go back and learn from the mistakes we made," Georgia defensive back Dominick Sanders told Chattanooga's "Press Row" radio audience Tuesday. "Those can't happen this year."

 

The ramifications of those mistakes last year jumpstarted the push that sent Richt to Miami and the momentum that has made Tennessee one of the preseason favorites to be in the chase for the college football playoff.

And the stakes likely will be just as high in October. With the questions abounding for first-year coaches at Missouri and South Carolina and the quarterback issues at Florida, the Vols and the Bulldogs figure to be atop the SEC East standings when the preseason picks are announced Thursday.

Those expectations are fresh for a UT team that last year parachuted off the break-even spin cycle that has been painful.

Since going 10-4 in 2007, Tennessee is 49-51.

"We've seen the good, the bad and the ugly," Sutton said. "We just have to bring it every Saturday."

Vegas certainly expects Sutton and Co. to bring it each week. The Vols are favored in every game save one: They and Georgia are listed as even according to oddsmakers when they meet in Athens, Ga. Yes, as of now Tennessee is a one-point pick over Alabama.

With all apologies to Florida, which won the East last year after beating Tennessee and Georgia, here's guessing UT-Georgia will be the springboard to Atlanta for the winning team.

It's an expectation that each proud fan base believes it should have every year.

The Vols have been building toward this year since Jones first introduced us to Team Numbers and construction foundation techniques.

And the emotion that comes with Florida, and the Gators' 11-game win streak in the series, and the intensity of Alabama will still be there for everyone in the Tennessee program. But Georgia could very well be the key to getting to Atlanta, especially since the Vols' trip to Athens comes after facing Florida and before tests with Texas A&M and the Crimson Tide.

Make no mistake, there is a quiet confidence about these Vols. The quotes from Sutton, Josh Dobbs and Jalen Reeves-Maybin were long on Butchisms and short on bravado.

The Bulldogs were much the same as well Tuesday.

Each program knows what's at stake — a big step toward playing for an SEC title.

Contact Jay Greeson at jgreeson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6343. Follow him on Twitter @jgreesontfp.

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