If the Florida Gators triumph over the Tennessee Volunteers this Saturday, Florida will be 3-1, in good shape to make a bowl game, and almost in control of its own destiny in the SEC East, while Tennessee will fall to 2-2 and remain winless in SEC play, with the possibility of a losing season looming large.
And if the Gators fall to the Vols this Saturday, Tennessee will be 3-1, in good shape to make a bowl game, and fully in control of its own destiny in the SEC East, while Florida will fall to 2-2 and remain winless in SEC play, with the possibility of a losing season looming large.
You get it? This game means practically the same thing to both teams, from what I can tell — and, given those teams’ relative statures at the moment, that isn’t much.
Florida would certainly love to renew its recent dominance over Tennessee, I’m sure, and Florida fans would love to be able to crow about the Gators winning 13 games in 14 tries against the Vols. But beating this Tennessee team isn’t a big deal — and I’d argue that this game is no better than fifth on the list of most important games to Florida fans this fall, behind the obvious (Florida State, Georgia), the semi-obvious (Mississippi State and LSU), and maybe even behind the please-don’t-let-us-lose-to-that-guy-again (South Carolina).
For Tennessee, beating Florida in this one is considerably more important, because reversing recent dominance is more important than maintaining it — hi, Kentucky — and because the Vols have positioned this as their one big recruiting game of the year. The only other big Vols home game of this fall is against Alabama, after all, and Jeremy Pruitt isn’t centering his recruiting on that likely blowout defeat.
And Tennessee, like Kentucky before it, could spin beating even this clearly not vintage Florida team as a program-defining win. Pruitt could use a big win to get his fan base excited, and a win over Florida just weeks removed from a drubbing by West Virginia would suggest some in-season progress.
But avoiding losses is probably more important to both programs.
For Florida, a loss really could make going bowling difficult, likely requiring either a spotless November or a road win or home upset this fall. For Tennessee, losing to even this Florida team — at home! — would reinforce a lot of narratives about how far behind the Vols truly fell under Butch Jones.
And so we march into a bizarre weekend in which Florida-Tennessee is an afterthought, and not a spotlight game, even after the schools have played some of their most thrilling games in recent memory in the last three years, and even with both programs likely desperate to win — or, at least, not lose.
What do you think of this weekend’s game? How much does it mean to you? How much do you think a win — or a loss — would mean to the teams involved?