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Tennessee Can Silence Paul Johnson’s Criticism Of The SEC

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He has questioned the conference’s toughness on more than one occasion.

Paul Johnson celebrates after beating Georgia at Sanford Stadium in 2014.
Atlanta Journal Constitution

Not so long ago, there was no doubting that the SEC was the premier conference in college football. From 2006 to 2013, the SEC was 7-1 in national championship games. Not to mention, conference teams dominated the post season when it came to bowl games. Now however, there is an argument that the rest of college football has caught up to the conference and according to some, may no longer be on the level of other conferences (outside of Alabama, of course).

One of the most critical of the toughness of the SEC has been Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson, who ironically will face Tennessee in Atlanta for a Labor Day showdown.

In 2016, Tech defeated Vanderbilt early in the season, later defeated in state rival Georgia in Athens to close out the regular season, and then finished the year beating Kentucky in the Taxslayer Bowl (formally known as the Gator Bowl).

Following their win over Kentucky, Johnson said “We’re 3-0 vs the SEC East and we have Tennessee next.” It would not be the last time he made similar remarks. In an interview with USA Today earlier in the offseason Johnson again questioned the competitive toughness of the SEC, even insinuating the league was overhyped.

During his tenure at Georgia Tech, Johnson has had some success versus the SEC. Despite only beating annual rival Georgia three times since 2008, they have scored some big wins against SEC opponents, probably most notably beating Dak Prescott and Mississippi State in the Orange Bowl in 2014.

But is Johnson out of line with his bashing of the SEC? It is true that the ACC has made great strides towards becoming one of the toughest conferences in college football. Teams like Clemson and Florida State have the talent and coaching to hang with anyone in the country. But let’s be fair, could Georgia Tech survive SEC defenses on a weekly basis? Sure, they’ve had a few impressive wins over Georgia in recent memory, but since Johnson became head coach at Georgia Tech, he is just 3-6 vs the Bulldogs. Outside of Georgia, the only SEC teams Georgia Tech has played in the regular season are Mississippi State (2008 and 2009) and Vanderbilt (2016). In short, Johnson might have an argument that the ACC is as competitive as the SEC, but maybe he shouldn’t be the one flaunting it.

Now, regardless of whether or not Johnson is right on the subject of conference superiority, he did call out Tennessee, which should definitely motivate the Vols ahead of their rendezvous with the Yellow Jackets come September 4th. With so many question marks entering this season, Tennessee will be out to prove a lot and what better way to start versus one of the conferences biggest critics in his own backyard?