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Why It's More Important For The Vols to Beat Georgia Than Florida

Tennessee fans have been rightfully upset that the Vols failed to defeat Florida once again this year, increasing the Gators' streak to an unfathomable eleven straight wins. However, the Vols were victorious against Georgia for the first time since 2009-- and that win is significantly more important to the overall health of the Tennessee football program.

Victory is mine!
Victory is mine!
Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

A Broken Measuring Stick

When Aaron Medley's second game-winning field goal attempt flew wide of the uprights in the Swamp, a collective groan of exasperation escaped from Vol Nation, as once again, Tennessee failed to defeat Florida and restore some balance to a one-sided rivalry. Despite being one of Tennessee's newest rivals, the Gators have been something of a measuring stick for the Vols since Steve Spurrier turned a team most famous for lying down into a foe to be reckoned with. From the disappointment of Peyton Manning's senior season defeat in 1997 to Justin Hunter's first play knee injury in 2011, the game against Florida has often encapsulated the season as a whole, mirroring the narratives for the rest of the season. For most of the last decade or more, an early season loss to the Gators has presaged a terrible, no-good, very bad season for the Vols, and Tennessee's 28-27 loss to Florida this year could be considered more of the same.

Except that it's not true. For Tennessee to complete the rebuilding project Butch Jones started in 2013 and return to annual contender status, it's significantly more important for the Vols to defeat Georgia on an annual basis.

Why?

Recruiting.

Tennessee's Current Two-Deep by Home State

UT 2-Deep by Home State

As of the most recent depth chart posted on the Tennessee football website (Kentucky), the vast majority of Tennessee's starters and most important backups come from just two states: the Greatest State in the Union (17) and Georgia (11). Georgia alone is responsible for more players on the two-deep than the next three states (North Carolina 4, Virginia 3, Ohio 3) combined. How important is Florida to Tennessee's team composition? A whopping two players come from America's Garbage Pail: junior defensive end Corey Vereen and junior linebacker Kenny Bynum.

Tennessee Offense by Home State

On offense, the Vols rely heavily on in-state players, due largely to the homegrown offensive line-- 6 out of 10 linemen in the two-deep hail from the Volunteer State. In fact, depending on the lineup, Tennessee could start an all in-state line, with regular starters Kerbyson, Robertson, and Kendrick joined by backup center Mack Crowder and freshman guard Jack Jones. At the skill positions the importance of Georgia recruiting is clear-- starting quarterback Josh Dobbs, number two running back Alvin Kamara, and freshman wide receiver Preston Williams all hail from Metro Atlanta.

A smattering of other states are also represented, including the I-81 corridor through Virginia and Ohio.

State-by-state totals on offense: Tennessee 10, Georgia 4, Virginia 3, Ohio 2, Delaware 1, North Carolina 1, and Texas 1.

STARTER BACKUP
Position Name Home State Name Home State
Quarterback Josh Dobbs Georgia Quinten Dormady Texas
Running Back
Jalen Hurd Tennessee Alvin Kamara Georgia
WR-X Marquez North North Carolina Preston Williams Georgia
WR-Y Jauan Jennings Tennessee Von Pearson Virginia
WR-Z Josh Malone Tennessee Josh Smith Tennessee
Tackle Kyler Kerbyson Tennessee Drew Richmond Tennessee
Guard Jashon Robertson Tennessee Venzel Boulware Georgia
Center Coleman Thomas Virgina Mack Crowder Tennessee
Guard Dylan Wiesman Ohio Jack Jones Tennessee
Tackle Chance Hall Virginia Brett Kendrick Tennessee
Tight End Ethan Wolf Ohio Alex Ellis Delaware

Tennessee Defense by Home State

On defense, the Vols rely even more heavily on players from Georgia, with Metro Atlanta (7) nearly matching Tennessee (8) for most number of players in the two-deep. It's clear from the last two classes that Butch Jones has a special emphasis on recruiting Georgia and North Carolina, with the two states combining for 10 Volunteers on the defensive side of the ball. As noted earlier, the only two players hailing from Florida in the two-deep are found here-- junior defensive end Corey Vereen and junior linebacker Kenny Bynum, both from Butch Jones' first recruiting class at Tennessee.

Another interesting recruiting tid-bit to note is that the Vols don't have a single player on offense or defense from South Carolina. I'll have an article discussing what the retirement of the HBC means for Tennessee's recruiting later this weekend, but suffice it to say that the Vols need to be able to pull defensive linemen and the occasional position player out of the Palmetto State.

STARTER BACKUP
Position Name Home State Name Home State
Defensive End
LaTroy Lewis Ohio
Corey Vereen/Kyle Phillips Florida/Tennessee
Nose Tackle
Kendall Vickers North Carolina
Danny O'Brien Michigan
Defensive Tackle
Owen Williams Georgia Kahlil McKenzie California
Defensive End
Derek Barnett Tennessee Dimarya Mixon California
Strongside Linebacker
Kenny Bynum
Florida
Austin Smith Georgia
Middle Linebacker
Darrin Kirkland, Jr. Indiana
Colton Jumper Tennessee
Weakside Linebacker
Jalen Reeves-Maybin Tennessee Cortez McDowell Georgia
Cornerback
Cam Sutton Georgia
Darrell Miller Texas
Cornerback
Justin Martin Tennessee
Emmanuel Moseley North Carolina
Nickleback
Malik Foreman Tennessee Micah Abernathy Georgia
Strong Safety Todd Kelly, Jr. Tennessee
LaDarrell McNeil Texas
Free Safety Brian Randolph Georgia Evan Berry/Stephen Griffin Georgia/North Carolina
Tennessee Must Be Competitive With Georgia to Recruit Georgia Players

In total, Tennessee's two-deep (plus nickelback and alternates) has players from eleven states: Tennessee 17, Georgia 11, North Carolina 4, Virginia 3, Ohio 3, Texas 3, California 2, Florida 2, Delaware/Indiana/Michigan 1. While it's certainly possible and even probable that the Vols will sign players in seasons where they aren't competitive with the Bulldogs, there's an enormous difference between the cream of the crop and scraping the bottom of the barrel. With roughly 40% of the two-deep from Georgia, the Vols have a huge recruiting advantage in years where they defeat or play competitively with the in-state school. While Tennessee would prefer to recruit the vast majority of players from in-state, the limited population base makes that a pipe-dream (although it's important to note that Tennessee is growing rapidly and the Vols have recently capitalized on a bounty of in-state talent).

Under former coach Derek Dooley, Tennessee sometimes signed highly touted Georgians like wide receiver Da'Rick Rogers, but the bottom of the roster suffered as the Vols signed a variety of barely FBS-level players. This year alone, Tennessee is in the hunt for the overall number one player in Georgia, defensive tackle Derrick Brown, two five-star wide receivers, Kyle Davis and Mecole Hardeman, and a high four-star offensive tackle, E.J. Price.

So while Tennessee fans may think that it's the end of the world to lose to Florida, in reality, the Georgia game is far more important. Metro Atlanta is the most important source of Tennessee players after the state of Tennessee, and it's the most variable source, as high school recruits are vulnerable to negative recruiting. This year's win over Georgia did more than signal that Butch Jones can win the big game-- it served notice to Mark Richt and the Georgia recruiting staff that Tennessee plans to come for the most valuable players in Georgia.