There seems to be a growing consensus that Tennessee football losing to the Florida Gators is a given this year. Here’s why that’s unfair to the Volunteers.
Yes, Tennessee football is rebuilding this year with a new head coach in Jeremy Pruitt and new systems on both sides of the ball. And yes, they have a brutal schedule, especially early, that makes reaching a bowl game different.
The Vols could truly stumble to 3-9 this year if all things go wrong. But they could also go 8-4 if a bunch of breaks fall their way. The season comes down to a few crucial toss-up games, including the Vanderbilt Commodores, Kentucky Wildcats, Missouri Tigers, and yes, the Florida Gators.
This is where things get weird. Analysts this week have all of a sudden assumed a Tennessee football loss to Florida. Greg McElroy said he believes Florida will win ‘convincingly’ against the Vols. David Pollack and Paul Finebaum said it would be a good thing if they were just competitive. I say it’s ridiculous to assume this game is anything but a toss-up at this point.
After all, every issue facing the Vols is facing Florida. The Gators are rebuilding with a new head coach, and they are dramatically changing their offensive system. On top of that, although UT was 4-8 last year, Florida was 4-7. So remind me why it’s so obvious Florida will win?
Tennessee football lost to Florida last year on a last-second Hail Mary in a game that Butch Jones single-handedly coached away. And that was on the road.
This year, the Vols get a Florida team rebuilding just as much as them at Neyland Stadium. I’ll go as far to say that not only is this game not a sure loss. It’s once again the most important game of the season and could define Jeremy Pruitt’s opening act.
Given the past 13 years, it’s easy to see why Florida is considered a sure winner in this game. That’s been the case 12 times. But they were clearly the better team from 2005 through 2012, eight of those years. That’s not the case this year. And the Vols don’t have Jones’s incompetence now either.
Yes, Dan Mullen is more proven of a head coach than Pruitt. But that’s the benefit of the unknown with Pruitt. We don’t know how good he is, particularly in in-game situations and quick rebuilding projects.
The Vols have some clear talent returning in weapons like Ty Chandler, Marquez Callaway and now Jauan Jennings being back on offense. They have a collection of junior college guys and graduate transfers who were at one point four-star recruits to provide veteran leadership. And the defense, despite the concerns, does have guys like Kyle Phillips, Shy Tuttle and Nigel Warrior.
Simply put, Tennessee football can’t be any worse than last year’s team. And last year’s Vols team should have beaten the Gators on the road. There is no reason to believe that as UF learns the spread, they could just coast through Rocky Top.
Honestly, looking at the system changes, I’d put more money on the West Virginia Mountaineers and South Carolina Gamecocks beating the Vols than Florida. I would also bank more heavily on Mizzou winning in Knoxville.
This is not to say that the Vols are a sure bet to beat Florida either. But evidence does show this game, at the current moment, should be a complete toss-up. And the assumption that just playing them competitive will be a good thing is not true. UT fans should expect to win this one.