In a battle between two of the most storied programs in NCAA history, the Florida Gators travel to Knoxville for a huge SEC showdown against the Tennessee Volunteers on Saturday night.
Florida (2-0, No. 18 in the AP poll) comes into this matchup fresh off a 20-17 victory over Texas A&M in its conference opener and looks to take the early season pole position in the SEC East.
The road for Tennessee (2-0, No. 23 in the AP poll) has been a little easier, but nonetheless, it's been a successful one. The Vols are ranked for the first time since 2008 under Derek Dooley, and the head coach should have a jarringly loud sea of orange cheering him on with College Gameday on hand for the festivities.
It's a huge game for both teams that could ultimately vault the victor and submarine the loser's chances going forward.
With that in mind, here is everything you need to know about Saturday's contest.
When: Saturday, Sept. 15 at 6 p.m. ET
Where: Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn.
Betting Line: Pick 'em via Vegas Insider
Florida Injuries (via USA Today)
WR Michael McNeely, Foot, Out for Season
DE Ronald Powell, Knee, Out
Tennessee Injuries (via USA Today)
LB Christian Harris, Knee, Questionable
LB LaTroy Lewis, Knee, Out for Season
PK George Bullock, Leg, Out for Season
BCS/Top 25 Implications
Both teams come in ranked in the Top 25 of this week's AP poll, as Florida ranks No. 18 and Tennessee is No. 23. This matchup re-kindles the importance to an SEC rivalry that was once one of the most hyped contests on the college football docket every season.
Strictly speaking on Top 25 implications, Saturday's game is almost surely a one-way ticket to a top-15 ranking for the victor and a drop out of the rankings completely for the loser.
BCS-wise, both teams have limited goals for 2012. The Volunteers are finally starting to rebuild after the Lane Kiffin fiasco and the Gators are brimming with youth, so it's unlikely that either team could take down Georgia or South Carolina for the SEC East crown.
What They're Saying
After years of high-powered attacking offenses under former head coach Urban Meyer, Gator fans have become accustomed to a certain style of football. With a young team that's bound to make mistakes, that won't be the case this season under second-year head coach Will Muschamp.
According to the Gators coach, expect a ton of ugly wins for the team in 2012.
Via Tampa Bay Times:
That's just who we are. We're going to grind it out. We're going to win. That's kind of what we are as a mentality, as a football team, as we continue to grow and mature through the year.
On the other hand, there was no ugliness from Volunteers quarterback Tyler Bray last week. The junior signal-caller played sensationally against Georgia State, completing 18 of 20 passes for 310 yards and four touchdowns.
After years of up-and-down play, it seems that Bray is finally in the midst of a breakout season. In praising his quarterback for the performance last week, Dooley also said that each week will be a bigger test for Bray.
I don't think (Saturday) was any different from the last game. He has it. He's earned it. He's playing well. But each week is going to be another test.
For the Vols to come out on top Saturday night, they will need another solid performance from their breakout star.
Florida Player to Watch: RB Mike Gillislee
With questions still surrounding sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel's ability to handle the big moment, expect Gillislee to get a ton of carries Saturday.
The senior running back was well on his way to a workhorse performance last Saturday against Texas A&M before being hampered by a groin injury. Nevertheless, Gillislee still put up 83 yards on 14 carries and added two key touchdowns in the Gators' 20-17 victory.
For Gillislee, a player who patiently waited four years to get his shot, this game against Tennessee could be his first breakout moment on a national stage.
However, it won't be easy. The Vols have been stingy against the run so far in 2012, having not allowed an opposing running back to gain over 70 yards the entire season. If Gillislee can break out for a huge game, he could instantly vault himself into the conversation for best back in the SEC.
Most importantly, however, a big performance could be key to another huge road win for his team.
Tennessee Player to Watch: QB Tyler Bray
It's become apparent through the Vols' first two games how much the offense is reliant on the junior signal-caller. His performance last week is already noted, but it's the struggles around him that make Bray's brilliance even more noteworthy.
Running back Rajion Neal has struggled to get anything substantive going this season, averaging just 3.4 yards per carry thus far. In the team's only true test of the season against North Carolina State, the junior back had no run of longer than eight yards in his 22 carries.
Regardless, it's been Bray and his connection with top receiver Justin Hunter that has carried the way for Tennessee in 2012. If those two can hook up for another huge game, it will put the onus on a struggling Florida attack to keep up on the scoreboard.
In a raucous Neyland Stadium, that will be far easier said than done.
Key Matchup: Florida Secondary vs. Tennessee WR Justin Hunter
Though Bray and the passing attack have looked top-notch through two games, there is no denying it's a little top-heavy.
Hunter has 17 receptions for 219 yards and has seemingly been the security blanket for when things go wrong. The only other receiver with more than five catches is Cordarrelle Patterson, who has largely served as a big-play threat only.
If the Gators' young secondary is able to put the clamps on Hunter and render him ineffective, it will force Bray into throwing to a cavalcade of unproven targets. If not, it's likely that the Bray-Hunter combination is the reason Florida comes away from Knoxville 2-1 on Saturday.
The pick 'em spread means it's anyone's ballgame, so expect a highly contested game on Saturday.
But with a top-notch passing game and a College Gameday atmosphere, expect Tennessee to come out victorious at home. The victory would give Dooley his first huge win as the Vols coach while proving yet again that quarterback play is of the utmost importance at the collegiate level.
Score Prediction: Tennessee 24, Florida 20
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