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NOTHING RHYMES WITH ORANGE: Be the Death March

Much has been made of Tennessee's 2013 schedule, specifically their schedule through the month of October. Tennessee, beginning this Saturday, will face #6 Georgia, #13 South Carolina, and then #1 Alabama. Butch Jones has suggested that some consider the 2013 Vols' schedule "the hardest in college football history."

That is simply the SEC that we live in.

The Southeastern Conference is an island populated by 14 cannibal groups. The SEC has owned the BCS since its inception in 1998, when it began with a Tennessee national championship. Since, the BCS national championship has belonged to the SEC - nine of the recognized 14 titles, including the last seven in a row.

While the champion of the SEC seems to have become an automatic in the National Championship, with titles going to Tennessee, LSU, Florida and Alabama, the path there is a bloody and treacherous one. Many talented, nationally-hyped teams have been eaten up by their conference schedule and failed to ever reach the top of the mountain. Nobody knows that better than the Georgia Bulldogs.

The Bulldogs have never reached the BCS national championship, despite losing only three regular-season games in the last two years, and despite Mark Richt's impressive winning percentage since arriving in 2001, and despite year after year of top-flight recruiting, and despite two straight appearances in the SEC Championship game. In 2012, the Bulldogs missed a chance to finally capitalize on their hype and talent, falling ONE PLAY short of beating Alabama in the SEC championship game, and then watching the Crimson Tide go on to destroy Notre Dame in the national final. The last time the national title came to Athens was in 1980, after a 17-10 victory over Notre Dame.

Having narrowly escaped a very talented LSU team last week, the Bulldogs surely must be looking at the remainder of their schedule and seeing a path to success: Zero ranked teams remain. But the path to avoiding another national disappointment still runs through the rest of the SEC East and then SEC West Champions. Avoiding national disappointment again, and finally placing themselves among SEC teams to conquer the national stage (and conquering their reputation as a hype factory and talent mill who terminally fall short) must feel like all the pressure in the world. In my opinion, that is a real death march.

It's a different story in Knoxville.

For the duration of October, we see more of an escape route than a death march. Tennessee has already faced better offense against Oregon and better defense against Florida than they will face in the next two games, and that was on the road. Georgia brings a terminally flawed defense to Knoxville and will plan to beat Tennessee in an offensive shootout that would hope to victimize the Volunteers' shaky quarterback play and bury Tennessee under a mountain of points. Standing in the way of that plan is Tennessee's defense, who (despite occasionally looking lost and confused) are a mainstay among the nation's best at generating interceptions and fumbles. Tennessee can steal this game if the defense gives the slowly-stabilizing offense extra chances to attack the Bulldogs' well-known defensive problems.

With three wins in the bag already and a November full of winnable games, we would argue that there is no "death march" for Tennessee in 2013. October can't kill or take anything away from Tennessee, unlike opponents such as Georgia, whose aspirations for 2013 success live and die by the week in SEC play. Tennessee will not rule itself out of a bowl appearance if it goes 0 for October. The Vols also will not wonder "what happened?" if November comes without a fourth win.  

Depending on how you look at it, tomorrow begins a month of death or a month of opportunity. Considering the expectations of the 2013 Volunteers, a win in October would carry an infinity more impact in Knoxville than three blow-out losses. Compare that with the expectations of Tennessee's three October opponents, and the Vols truly should relish the role of "the ruiner" and swing for the fence this month. And Georgia, coming off a brutal, high-profile game, with a suspect defense, and with starting RB Todd Gurley hobbled by an ankle injury, may be Tennessee's most vulnerable October opportunity.

Sometimes you're ON the death march and sometimes you ARE the death march.



NOTE: Tennessee will wear their new gray jerseys for the first and only time this year. Look forward to a day full of self-proclaimed "traditionalists" to ruin your #Vols twitter feed with a lot of misguided and short-sighted moaning. It's a huge recruiting weekend and the beginning of a month where the men playing the game need all the juice they can get, and unlike the "traditionalist sect" of fans, they love the new jerseys.

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