Tennessee vs. Florida: Vols Need to Convince Gators This Is a Rivalry

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Tennessee vs. Florida: Vols Need to Convince Gators This Is a Rivalry
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The University of Tennessee and the University of Florida played 19 football games in 74 years from 1916 through 1990. In 1992, the SEC split into two divisions and as a result, the schools now play every year.

Here, we will review the history of this game overall and especially since divisional play began 20 years ago. Then, we will look at what Tennessee must do to get back on the winning tract in this rivalry.

After winning the past seven games in a row, Florida leads the all-time series 22-19 over the Volunteers. 

Before 2008, the Big Orange had always held the series lead. This was primarily the result of the Vols winning the first 10 games played—which Florida fans will quickly claim is ancient history.

Since the new divisional play format began in 1992, Florida holds a commanding 15-5 lead in the series. Still, the overall 22-19 record is good fuel for a rivalry.

Though some Florida fans may disagree, UT's old wins count just as much as their new ones.

From the viewpoint of many Tennessee fans, the primary reason the Gators caught up and took the lead is no longer a part of the series. In their eyes, it was a coaching issue. Gone now are the annual Phil Fulmer (and staff) chokes in this game.

I don't believe in jinxes and black cats crossing and such. But, I do believe that on several occasions, for whatever the reasons, Fulmer's staff seemed to play too tight during the Florida game. People often refer to it as "playing not to lose".

Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

In short, it is when a team gets too conservative in a game where being aggressive earned them a lead.

From 1990 through 2000, while Tennessee was almost always at or very near the top of college football, their record versus Florida was 3-and-8. Some losses were outrageous, like the 62-37 loss—when UT led 31-14 near the half—in 1995, or the 59-20 blow-out in 2007. Others were last second heart breakers, like 23-21 in 1999 or 21-20 in 2006.

Still, somehow in most of the games, the Vols found a way to get beat.

Even in Fulmer's last years—2001 through 2007—just as he and his staff seemed to be getting a grip on how to beat the Gators, they again fell into a slump.

From 2001 through 2004, Fulmer's Vols were 3-1 against Florida. But from 2005 through 2008, he lost the last four straight.

For his career, Fulmer was 11-5 against Alabama, 11-6 against Georgia and only 5-12 against Florida. It would be easily understood were all Fulmer's losses against one coaching staff. But his record came against three different Florida staffs.  

Due to the divisional format, Florida has taken the place of Alabama as Tennessee's most heated rivalry game of the regular season.

Because Alabama is a Western division team, both Tennessee and Florida can overcome a loss to the Tide by beating their Eastern division opponents. Now, you must win your divisional games before you can think conference championship.

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Since the divisional format began in 1992, Florida has represented the East in the title game 10 times. Tennessee has five, Georgia, twice and South Carolina, once. Neither Vanderbilt nor Kentucky has played for the SEC title since the system was introduced.

For the record, the overall SEC Championship tally (since the conference winner started being recognized in 1933) for Eastern Division teams is: Tennessee in first place with 13 titles, Georgia second with 12, Florida third with eight and Kentucky fourth with two.

South Carolina and Vanderbilt have yet to win an SEC title in football. The all time SEC titles leader is Alabama, with 22.  

Now comes the Will Muschamp and Derek Dooley years. Muschamp won first in 2011 in the swamp. Tennessee rolled into town with a passing team and promptly lost their No. 1 receiver to a knee injury.

They eventually recovered from that shock but it was too late. Florida already had the game pretty well under control and went on to win 33-23.

This season, the game is in Knoxville. Though UT is still a passing team, they can run a bit also. Both teams were very young last year and have gained valuable experience in several areas.

This second game of the new era should be a hard fought, close game. However, on paper at least, the Vols have a team that should win this game at home.

 

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Will Dooley coach differently than Fulmer? Will this Tennessee team come at the Gators full bore, for 60 minutes? Or, will they slip into a conservative mode, for fear of making a big mistake?

Is this game a real rivalry? Many Florida fans do not see Tennessee as an equal to the Gators in football. Why should they?

What would be more relevant to you as a Florida fan? The 10 games UT won in a row starting almost a hundred years ago, or the seven in row the Gators just won?

The reason there is a mutual respect between Alabama and Tennessee in their rivalry is it was only 2006 when UT finished winning 10 out of 12 games over the Tide. They remember when UT was winning. Florida fans have few memories of UT wins, let alone winning streaks.

The only way UT will gain respect from many—not all—Gator fans is by winning ball games, and by showing them UT is more than just a team that used to win long ago.

I can't think of a better time to start a new streak over Florida than this Saturday.

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