KNOXVILLE – When SEC dominance was referenced in the last two years, it was really more a story of SEC West superiority.
The West is home to the last three national champions – Alabama (2009, 2011), Auburn (2010). LSU was the consensus top team in the 2011 regular season before falling to the Crimson Tide in the BCS National Championship Game last season.
The West also came into 2012 with three in the Preseason AP Poll with Alabama at No. 2, LSU at No. 3 and Arkansas at No. 9.
Though Alabama and LSU are currently No. 1 and No 3 respectively, the East is slowly making a comeback in terms of matching the West from top to bottom. Alabama and LSU might still be on top, but Georgia, South Carolina and Florida aren’t far behind.
“I think the SEC East is an outstanding part of our league,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said on Tuesday. “Preseason everybody had an opinion on everybody’s schedules, and I felt like we just aren’t going to know how tough everybody’s schedule is until you play the season and you have a better idea of how tough it is. We felt like we had some very outstanding teams in the East, and so far they are proving it.”
Georgia’s promising 4-0 start is a big part of the improved reputation of the East. The Bulldogs, who were manhandled 42-10 by LSU in the 2011 SEC Championship game, so far have the look of a national contender after averaging more than 47 points per game in their first four contests.
The Georgia defense is a strong suit as well. Tennessee offensive coordinator Jim Chaney had no hesitation in answering ‘yes’ when asked if Georgia’s defense is comparable to Alabama’s or LSU’s.
“Those are big boys, they are hard to move around, nobody has been able to do that with a lot of success yet, and it is going to be quite a challenge,” Chaney said of Georgia. “They do a lot of schemes over there that makes them very complicated; it is going to be a challenge, it is going to be good.”
Saturday a “McCullers game”: Tennessee opponents can be categorized by whether it is a “Daniel McCullers game” or not.
The 6-foot-7, 360-pound, nose guard is used extensively in game where the opponent relies on the run, but he can sit out almost an entire game if the opponent uses more of a spread attack. Defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri said Saturday’s game against Georgia will be one where he gets a lot of playing time.
“This is more of McCullers’ game,” Sunseri said. “Last week, McCullers wasn’t involved in the picture as much because it was all spread, throwing it around and dinking and dunking you. [Georgia] is going to get into what we call 21 personnel and they are going to try to see if we can stop their run. We’ll see what happens.”
Chaney looking to get ball to Patterson: After being among the league leaders in all-purpose yardage through three weeks, wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson didn’t get as many chances against Akron.
The junior had a career-low 32 offensive all-purpose yards in the 47-26 win on Saturday.
“I have to find ways to get him involved in the ball game,” Chaney said. “I have to call plays and make sure that I get him the ball. He is very good and talented and I have to find a way to do that and that has been something that have thought a lot about since the beginning of the season and I have to continue to do that.”
High praise for Gurley: Sunseri had high praise for Georgia RB Todd Gurley, who is averaging 9.2 yards per carry and currently leads the SEC in rushing.
“He reminds me a lot of (former Alabama and current Cleveland Browns running back) Trent Richardson as far as his lower body strength,” Sunseri said. “He takes the ball north and south when most people want to go east and west.”
Sunseri was an assistant coach at Alabama during Richardson’s time with the Crimson Tide (2009-11).
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee football for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @Daniel_LewisCBS.