Dogs, Vols have fallen from East penthouse

Don’t believe it can turn swiftly (and harshly) in this league?

Three years ago, Tennessee played in the SEC championship game and was a pick-6 away from upsetting eventual national champion LSU.

That same season, Georgia finished second in the final Associated Press Top 25 poll after destroying Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl.

Fast forward to this Saturday’s game in Sanford Stadium.

Georgia and Tennessee play a game that’s meaningless in terms of the SEC race or any national ramifications.

In fact, neither team has won an SEC game this season. For that matter, they’ve yet to beat a team from a BCS conference.

And to really put into perspective how far these two programs have fallen, it’s the first time they’ve met with both teams sporting losing records since 1906.

It was supposed to be a long, hard season for the Vols, who’re playing with first-year starters all over the place and very little depth in Derek Dooley’s first season in Knoxville.

But for the Bulldogs, who had 10 starters returning on offense, they were supposed to be a factor in the Eastern Division race. Instead, they’re mired in a four-game losing streak overall and have now lost seven of their last nine SEC games dating back to a year ago.

They haven’t lost five in a row in one season since 1953 when they lost their last five games.

The talk in Athens has gone from whether or not the Bulldogs (1-4, 0-3) can salvage this season to whether or nor Mark Richt, the dean of SEC coaches, can keep his job.

Given Richt’s consistency and his success at Georgia, it would have been unthinkable before the season to even imagine a scenario where he was forced out at Georgia.

But this is clearly the roughest storm he’s faced since taking over for Jim Donnan in 2001.

“The bottom line is that we’ve got to keep the faith,” Richt said earlier this week.

With every Georgia loss, it gets harder and harder to do that.

A loss to Tennessee (2-3, 0-2) could well be the final blow. The Vols embarrassed the Bulldogs 45-19 in Knoxville last season. That was a Lane Kiffin-coached Tennessee team, and remember his comments to his team afterward?

In short, he told them that Tennessee would never lose to Georgia again as long as he was around.

His tenure at Tennessee lasted all of one year, and now he’s on the West Coast.

And while the Vols are in desperate need of a win, particularly coming off that heartbreaking 16-14 loss to LSU last week, the Bulldogs (and Richt) can’t afford another loss.

Certainly not one to a rebuilding Tennessee team.

Dooley, whose iconic father, Vince, led Georgia to its last national championship in 1980, is under no illusions that the Vols will find a beaten, broken-down team on Saturday in Sanford Stadium.

“What about us, though? Are we up?” Dooley said. “I don’t know what the answer is, and I never know until game day. Here’s what I do know: They’re not going to stay down. It’s a proud, talented program with great coaches. We’re expecting them at their best, and that’s probably what they’ll show.

“They’ll show their best. That’s what most good programs do. We better be prepared for Georgia’s best, because that’s what we’re going to get. If we aren’t at our best, we’ll get run out of the stadium. I believe that in my heart.”