Volunteering for Gator Bait: A preview of Florida at Tennessee

This Saturday, fans of the SEC will be treated to two great football rivalries. The games will hopefully help to answer the question of SEC and college football fans in general, “can any team challenge Alabama and their recent dominance?”
Starting at 3:30pm (EST) on CBS, the 19th ranked Florida Gators will head to Neyland Stadium in Knoxville to take on the 14th ranked Volunteers of Tennessee. Tennessee brings one of, if not, the most experienced teams in all of college football, while Florida’s young but talented team looks to show that they’re still a force to be reckoned with.

The Gators have a proud history in football and the rivalry, winners of several championships in the 1990’s and later parts of the first decade of the new millennium. In this rivalry, the biggest in the SEC East, they hold a slight edge historically, winners of 26 out of a total 45 games played, and currently enjoying the longest win streak in the rivalry’s history, which now stands at 11 dating back to 2005. Recently however, the Gators have experienced early-season success but fizzled and struggled through the end of seasons, with poor play on the field and injuries plaguing and crippling them through the finish lines. This year they sport the current number one ranked overall defense, giving up just over four points a game, surrendering only two touchdowns through their first three games, although their opponents so far have been Massachusetts (an FCS school until just a few years ago), the historically weak (at football) Kentucky, and North Texas. While Florida hasn’t had much of a challenge so far this season, they are once again enjoying and experiencing a lot of hype, however the injuries that have been the bane of their team’s existence in recent years are already starting to add up this season.

Tennessee’s 14th ranked team has not experienced much success on the gridiron since Peyton Manning stopped playing there. Which was back in 1997. Recently the Volunteers have done little more than volunteer themselves for sacrifice at the hands of superior football teams, however they have the tendency to surprise and (usually) play tough football. They looked rather impressive in their win over Virginia Tech two weeks ago in the first ever “Battle at Bristol,” but that’s about it for this season. They struggled last week against Ohio (not State, just Ohio), and needed overtime to escape Appalachian State (although Appalachian State has been known to upset big teams in the past). This is the most excitement the team has had in a long, long time, but many fear that the consistently inconsistent on-field performance, combined with their own injury issues, mean it might once again have the Volunteers limping and whimpering through the finish line.

The rankings make the teams appear to be evenly matched, but the stats say different. Florida is number one in total defense and 36 on offense, while Tennessee is 45th in defense and 92nd on offense. Tennessee came into the season with some thinking they could make the playoffs, but they might once again end up as Gator bait.