In retrospect, how many of the games between the Florida Gators and teams that they play annually would you really have wanted to be at this decade?
There are a couple Kentucky games, probably. A few South Carolina games. Maybe one or two Vanderbilt games. A Florida State game or three; a Georgia game or two. Probably not any of the Missouri games.
But the Tennessee games? I think that you might have wanted to go to five, six, seven.
2010 and 2011 didn’t have the greatest games, though Chris Rainey balling out in 2011 would’ve been fun to watch. Seeing Florida stride into Neyland Stadium and coolly destroy Tennessee in the second half in 2012 would’ve been dope.
The 2013 game was a beautiful, glorious mess — the first suggestion to the world that Nathan Peterman was and would be a terrible quarterback. In 2014, Florida rallied from inside its own casket behind Treon Harris in Neyland; that’s the game that got us Will Muschamp’s last great moment as Florida’s coach.
In 2015? Florida made one of the greatest single plays in its recent history.
In 2017? Florida made one of the greatest single plays in its recent history.
The Florida-Tennessee rivalry has been decided by more than a single possession once in the last four years. Its history prior to this decade has plenty of close games, too, even if some didn’t go Florida’s way — screw you, Daniel Lincoln and Casey Clausen. Even when these teams aren’t great, the games can be.
And, well, these teams aren’t great this year.
Florida and Tennessee have been good enough to beat overmatched teams handily and bad enough to get handled by teams no one thinks of as national contenders. Florida and Tennessee are programs in flux in their new coaches’ first years, hoping mostly to progress and learn rather than contend in their own rights. And the stars that have populated these teams’ rosters on occasion just aren’t around in significant numbers now.
So tonight (7 p.m., ESPN or WatchESPN or ESPN+), I hope Florida wins, sure — but I’d settle for a good game. These teams play those more often than they play well.
Or they could play poorly and we could complain for three hours. Whichever.