Normally, I write about tendencies, statistics, and scouting. But since Rocky Top Talk did a fine statistical preview of the game, I was left considering what else to write about this week. Easy.
I realize Florida is on an eight-game winning streak against Tennessee, and that feels nice to everyone. This is especially true in the Internet age: 2004, the last year Florida lost to Tennessee, feels like the golden age, a time when Facebook was still a startup. Remember when we talked to people on the phone and didn't text our thumbs off? Yeah, me neither. Florida-Tennessee football games were heated, contested, and mattered like hell.
But that was 2004, and I was at the top of freakin' Rocky Top for that loss. I haven't forgotten the smashed-together seats, Volunteer Navy, and of course Junior and Lulu.
Tennessee is still a rival, and this is still a Hate Week. Florida fans seem ready to treat this game as an afterthought, and that would be a mistake. Tenneessee has struggled the last few seasons, but still possess enough talent to pull the upset in The Swamp. As I've read the forums, listened to fans, and talked with friends, it's apparent that Florida fans are generally more concerned about the state of the offense than Tennessee. The problem with long winning streaks, if there is one, is the threat of complacency in a team or fan base, leading to the losing team being taken for granted.
If you want to read an article about the process, read Andy's. The process matters, and shouldn't be taken lightly either, but this isn't one of those articles. Florida-Tennessee football still matters in a big way, and here are five reasons why.
It's the SEC opener
Excluding 2012 vs. Texas A&M and 2001 (when the nation took a week off from sports), Florida has opened SEC play against Tennessee every year since 1996. In several matchups, the winner of this game was going to the SEC Championship Game, so great was the opportunity to grab a game-and-a-half in the standings. It sets the tone for what always promises to be a brutal SEC schedule, and starting well is always important.
Adding new grudges to old grudges
Veteran Tennessee fans haven't forgotten that Peyton Manning never beat Florida, or how gleefully Steve Spurrier poked fun at them. Gator fans haven't forgotten the 2001 loss in the Swamp that knocked the Gators out of National Championship competition. While you're at it, try bringing up Jabar Gaffney's winning TD catch in 2000, or the Dallas Baker penalty in 2004. There are still plenty of old wounds to lick and grudges to conjure up come kickoff.
Winning recruiting battles
Since this game is the SEC opener, and beginning at a decent hour, Florida has several big-name recruits and commits in the stands. Florida doesn't battle Tennessee for many recruits these days (though that can always change), but showing up well and doing what a favored team is supposed to do always helps recruiting. Indirectly, Florida will be recruiting against Georgia, Alabama, and LSU, teams they normally battle for top recruits. How Florida performs will stick in the minds of young atheletes, and when the same recruit goes up to Athens, Tuscaloosa, or Baton Rouge, the kind of show they will see there will inevitably be compared to the one the Gators put on. Plus, a win or close loss by Tennessee can fuel recruiting change, since Butch Jones would use it to say "All we need is you to take down Florida." Any big recruiting show matters, and this is no exception.
Taking the inside track on the SEC East
We all know Florida's SEC East hopes ride on the Georgia and South Carolina games, but as the opener, Florida has the inside track on the division lead with a win. The victor ties Georgia for the early lead, and controls its own destiny. The loser spends the rest of the season distracted by scoreboard watching. For all the frustration surrounding Florida's loss to Miami, the Gators still control much of their fate for the season, and all of their fate in the SEC. A win over Tennessee is imperative to remain in control.
Just like Lane Kiffin and Derek Dooley, Butch Jones is coming in to the Swamp with hopes of pulling a big upset. Volunteer Nation is hopeful this team will rebound after being thoroughly whipped by Oregon. Will Muschamp and the Gators will need to crush that hope swiftly and without mercy. Even if the game is another 24-10 ground ‘n pound, the pounding must be severe. Vol fans should drive back up to Tennessee with a feeling in their hearts that nothing has changed and they're going to keep losing to Florida forever and ever.
Gator Nation, do you think the team is taking this game lightly, and are YOU? What are your greatest and most frustrating Florida vs. Tennessee memories? The comments are yours...