So it’s Tennessee week. And, as I’m sure many will say and write this week, the Florida-Tennessee rivalry finally feels like a rivalry again.
Except: It doesn’t?
Florida and Tennessee will meet as top-20 teams for the first time since 2007, sure, but they’re top-20 teams more by default than dint of deserving those spots.
Tennessee has actually fallen to its current perch, by sandwiching struggles in home games against Appalachian State and Ohio teams with a fraction of the Vols’ talent around a win against Virginia Tech in a “neutral-site” game played a little less than two hours from Rocky Top. Florida has risen — after falling, thanks to an unimpressive win against UMass — by rolling past Kentucky and North Texas.
Yes, Florida won the SEC East last year, but beauty pageants for potatoes have crowned more appealing champions than the post-Will Grier Gators; yes, Tennessee finished its 2015 season on a roll after four close losses to good-to-excellent teams early on, but the six teams Tennessee defeated to close 2015 were Kentucky, South Carolina, North Texas, Missouri, Vanderbilt, and Northwestern — teams that combined to win just eight games over winning teams in 2015, with Northwestern supplying half of that total.
And, also: Rivalries typically require a back-and-forth, something that simply has not happened in the recent history of the Florida-Tennessee tussle. Prior to Florida’s current 11-game winning streak, Tennessee’s 10-game winning streak that began with the first game between the two teams was the longest in series history ... except that spanned 37 years and both World Wars, and the Gators and Volunteers weren’t even both SEC teams when the rivalry began. Florida and Tennessee met in consecutive years just twice over that Vols streak.
This Gators streak has been won and defended in each and every year since 2005. Florida freshman Jawaan Taylor, listed as 18 years and 10 months old by 247Sports, was likely in first or second grade when Tennessee last beat Florida.
In the five other Florida rivalries that Wikipedia maintains pages for — Auburn, Florida State, Georgia, LSU, and Miami — the longest win streak during an annualized stretch of the series is a nine-game streak the Gators enjoyed over FSU for much of the 1970s.
This is unprecedented dominion that Florida has had over Tennessee in recent years, a hammer-and-nail relationship that has left flattened Vols fans chirping about next year every fall.
I hope Florida doesn’t let this series feel like a rivalry again for a while.
A brief and largely pointless note on Roman numerals: 28 and 37 are, I believe, the numbers before 50 that require the second-most characters to represent. 28 is XXVIII, 37 is XXXVII; only 38, which has seven characters at XXXVIII, has more, and I think it requires getting almost into the 70s to even get to six characters again, as 68, LXVIII, is the next six-character number.