ATHENS, Ga. -- Just like that, Tennessee became the team to beat in the Southeastern Conference East.
Just like that, Georgia became the team that needs some help just to get another shot at the league championship.
The Volunteers showed just how quickly things can change in the SEC, bouncing back from a 24-point home loss to Auburn with a 19-14 upset of unbeaten
The Bulldogs (4-1, 2-1) tumbled nine spots to No. 12 in The Associated Press rankings on Sunday. More devastating, they squandered a chance to put
themselves in a commanding position for a third consecutive trip to Atlanta for the SEC championship game.
"It's going to be very difficult for us," coach Mark Richt said. "We've just got to control what we can control."
Tennessee (4-1, 2-1), which moved up four places to No. 13, clearly has the easiest road to Atlanta. The Vols already have played their three toughest
SEC games, with wins over No. 22 Florida and Georgia sandwiched around the 34-10 loss to Auburn. Their last five conference games are against unranked
teams with a combined record of 13-15, beginning next Saturday with a trip to Mississippi.
Georgia is tied with Tennessee for first in the SEC East, but the Bulldogs still have to play perennial nemesis Florida -- they have lost to the
Gators 13 of the last 14 years -- and make a trip to Auburn late in the season.
Another factor working against the Bulldogs: Tennessee holds the tiebreaker edge with its victory between the hedges.
Other than Georgia, Florida has a relatively easy schedule remaining within the conference -- road games at Mississippi State (1-5) and Vanderbilt
(1-4), plus a home game against South Carolina (4-2). But the Gators put themselves in a deep hole with their second conference loss -- a 24-21
setback to LSU, which scored the winning touchdown with 27 seconds remaining.
Now, everyone is chasing Tennessee, which came into Sanford Stadium as a 12#189-point underdog.
"There were not a lot of people who gave us much of a chance except the coaches and the kids who got on that airplane to come down here," coach
Phillip Fulmer said.
The Volunteers self-destructed against Auburn, turning the ball over six times. Freshman quarterback Erik Ainge accounted for five of those turnovers
-- four interceptions and a fumble -- but he didn't have any against the Bulldogs.
"We are a good football team," Fulmer said. "We are a lot better when we don't help other people with turnovers."
Meanwhile, the league's lowest-ranked pass defense kept Georgia from moving the ball through the air. The Vols caused plenty of confusion with their
zone coverages, and the front line kept the heat on quarterback David Greene.
The Bulldogs hardly looked like the same team as the previous week, when they were close to perfection in a 45-16 rout of LSU. Greene followed up a
five-touchdown performance by completing just 15 of 34 for 163 yards. It didn't help that he was sacked five times.
"The SEC is tough," receiver Fred Gibson said. "You never know."
Richt was baffled by his team's performance. For example, on Tennessee's opening possession, the Bulldogs blew a pair of simple coverages that allowed
the Vols to complete a 39-yard pass on third-and-11 and a 22-yard touchdown on third-and-9.
"We made mistakes that we had not made all year," Richt said. "We just blew it."
Georgia may have blown its chance to contend for a national championship, but that's a minor consideration at this point. Richt won't look past the
next game against lowly Vanderbilt.
"We can't even get out of the East right now," he said. "We're going to be fighting like mad just to beat Vanderbilt."