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Tennessee can take a massive step forward on Saturday

Tennessee has won eight games in a row. It's the longest winning streak in the SEC, tied with Notre Dame for the longest in the Power 5 conferences, and trails only Air Force among all FBS teams.

Those wins have come against South Carolina, UAB, Kentucky, Missouri, Vanderbilt, Indiana, South Carolina again, and Missouri again. Not exactly a murderer's row of opponents, sure, but it represents real, tangible progress for a program that began last season with consecutive losses to Georgia State and BYU.

For a program that spent a solid decade-plus wandering into the wilderness, the quickest way out is one step at a time.

A giant leap forward presents itself on Saturday. 

Jeremy Pruitt's team, up to No. 14 in the AP poll, heads to Athens to face No. 3 Georgia.

Tennessee hasn't beaten an AP Top 10 team since Oct. 7, 2006 (at Georgia, as fate would have it). They've lost 34 straight against teams ranked in the AP Top 10 at kickoff since then. The Vols haven't beaten a team ranked No. 3 or higher since Oct. 9, 2004 (once again, at Georgia).

Vegas has Tennessee as a 12.5-point underdog. 247Sports lists Tennessee as college football's 14th most talented team, and Georgia as the first.

Georgia has college football's best defense, a fearsome running game, and a developing passing game populated by a host of NFL prospects at wide receiver.

But Tennessee will have one distinct talent advantage.

The Volunteers' offensive line is the most talented in college football, full stop. It's a massive group (they average 6'5", 316 pounds) of highly-recruited players with tons of college experience, and they're playing like it.

LT: Wanya Morris -- 5-star, 13 career starts
LG: Trey Smith -- 5-star, 33 career starts
C: Brandon Kennedy -- 4-star, 16 career starts
RG: Jerome Carvin -- 4-star, 15 career starts
RT: Cade Mays -- 5-star, 19 career starts

Tennessee ranks second in the SEC in rushing two games into this young season. The Vols pounded out 232 yards and four touchdowns on 51 carries in last week's 35-12 win over Missouri. According to The Athletic's David Ubben, not a single carry by a running back over the course of the game went for a loss.

So talented is Tennessee along the offensive line that they'll put tight end numbers on linemen Riley Locklear and Cooper Mays and throw them on the field, too. (Cade Mays is a Knoxville native who signed with Georgia out of high school, transferred back to Tennessee and only recently became eligible to play. Think he'll be ready to ball out on Saturday?)

“It’s a lot of meat to handle, to be honest,” Smith told The Athletic.

“We definitely take pride in being able to get back to the line of scrimmage” Tennessee running back Ty Chandler, the SEC's leading rusher, said. “Getting more yards than what the play is blocked for. That’s what’s preached to us every day and that’s what we try to do. That’s what we focus on in practice. It’s a big challenge.

“We have to accept the opportunity and get ready for it, just go seize the moment.”

If you want to own the talent advantage at one position group outside of quarterback, wouldn't it be the offensive line?

With apologies to the feel good days of the Butch Jones era, this is Tennessee's biggest game since the 2007 SEC Championship.

To be clear, even with a win the Vols will face an uphill battle to reach Atlanta. They still have to play Florida and they still have to play Alabama. Both are tough matchups for a team built to win games 21-14.

But Georgia, at least at this point in time, is also built to win 21-14. And, yeah, Georgia may be built a little bit better; the Bulldogs run for 20 yards per game fewer than Tennessee so far, but their run defense ranks third in the country through two games.

If that offensive line manages to establish a rhythm and if quarterback Jarrett Guarantano continues to play mistake-free football -- Tennessee's plus-3 turnover margin is tied for seventh nationally -- Tennessee has a puncher's chance to defeat the No. 3 team in the country on their home turf.

And if that happens? It'll be time to describe Tennessee with a 4-letter word, one that has hung over the other UT for the past five seasons: back.