AP Top 25 College Football
Tennessee keeps connecting with past themes this season.
Game 1 theme: The Vols can't win in the Georgia Dome. They did.
Game 2: Coach Bill Curry's team gets crushed in Neyland Stadium. It did.
Game 3: The Vols can't beat Florida. They didn't.
Game 4: The Vols don't lose to Terry Bowden. They didn't.
That brings us to Game 5 in Athens, Ga., on Saturday. You shouldn't need a hint to guess the theme, but I'll give one anyway: "When was the last time you heard the Vols referred to as "Road Warriors?"
Tennessee is 3-13 the past four seasons in conference road games.
Alarming facts: Vanderbilt has done that well, and Kentucky has done better.
The Vols haven't just lost consistently on the road in the SEC. They have lost big. Five losses have been by 21 or more points, and the average margin of defeat has been 15.4 points.
So you might already have filed Saturday's game at Sanford Stadium under "bad trips," especially if you remember UT's most recent Saturday at that venue. The Bulldogs led by 20 points at halftime en route to a 41-14 victory.
The previous Georgia road trip was just as bleak for UT, though the final score wasn't as harsh.
The Bulldogs won 26-14 but had 29 first downs and 448 yards while holding the Vols to 1 yard rushing and 13-for-30 passing.
As awful as that might sound to UT fans, it could be worse. The Vols could be going to Gainesville, Fla., or Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Despite Georgia's success in its last two home games against UT, the Bulldogs don't foster the same sense of dread that Alabama does at Bryant-Denny Stadium or the Gators do in The Swamp. In fact, some of UT's fondest football memories were made in Athens.
In 1992, UT knocked off 14th-ranked Georgia 34-31 under then-interim coach Phillip Fulmer. Two years later, the Vols rushed for 383 yards in a 41-23 victory over Georgia. They won 51-33 in 2006 after trailing at halftime. In the last 10 games at Sanford Stadium, UT is 6-4.
As rivals go, Georgia is the antithesis of Florida. UT invariably brings out the best in the Gators. And it often brings out the worst in Georgia.
In 2007, Georgia was good enough to win 11 of 13 games but lost to the Vols 35-14 in Neyland Stadium. Two years later, Tennessee beat Georgia 45-19.
Georgia's 2002 team went 13-1, won the SEC and finished third in both top-25 polls. Yet it beat the underdog Vols by only five points in Athens after leading 18-0 through three quarters. The outcome was more surprising in that UT was playing without injured quarterback Casey Clausen.
Georgia entered that game ranked sixth nationally. Ten years later, it's ranked fifth, and perhaps eyeing bigger challenges down the road (sixth-ranked South Carolina will follow the Vols).
UT's road is more daunting. Beginning with the Bulldogs, its next four games — including three on the road — are all against SEC teams currently ranked in the top 25.
Unless Tennessee suddenly starts traveling better, those four games could lead to a dead end.