Is Tennessee’s leap for real, and has its rocket ship ride in Year 2 under coach Josh Heupel made it a legitimate national title contender?

“I think so. People say, ‘Oh, spread teams can’t win the national championship.’ No, teams that can’t run the ball can’t win the national championship,” one assistant who has faced the Vols this year said. “Tennessee can run the ball.”

Is Georgia’s juggernaut program already capable of reloading from a national title run, after losing five first-round picks and the Butkus Award winner, to capture back-to-back titles?

“Last year’s defense was historic, and they’re not quite on that level, but they’re still really good,” said a coordinator who faced Georgia this year. “They don’t bust coverages. They don’t make mistakes. They just don’t give you anything easy.”

On Saturday, the two historic SEC East powers will face off in a matchup of No. 1 (Tennessee) and No. 3 (Georgia), according the College Football Playoff rankings. This week, The Athletic spoke with eight people, including head coaches, coordinators and position coaches around the SEC and among those who have faced the Bulldogs and/or the Vols, to get insight into the matchup.

They were granted anonymity for competitive reasons and to allow for a more unfiltered look at the matchup from the perspective of coaches.

Tennessee’s offense has been the story of the season’s first two months. Hendon Hooker is the Heisman Trophy front-runner. Receiver Jalin Hyatt exploded onto the national scene with five touchdown catches against Alabama and may win the Biletnikoff Award. Even though neither Heupel nor anyone on his staff coached under Art Briles at Baylor, they’ve used his system to reboot the Tennessee program in just more than one season.

“Peak Art Briles Baylor, his last few years, the Bryce Petty Years, this Tennessee team is the closest to that of any other team that’s tried to run that,” a coordinator said. “Kendal Briles, Jeff Lebby, Dino Babers, everyone has evolved. Kendal and Lebby added some of (Lane Kiffin’s) stuff. Sean Lewis and Kent State evolved up north with weather and body types after he left Dino. But Tennessee runs the most stripped-down version of peak Baylor. They don’t run a whole lot of plays. They just get wide, get athletes in space and run by people.”