In years past, you could win the SEC East despite having an early season defeat. That will not be the case for the Florida Gators nor the Tennessee Volunteers in 2012. With both teams drawing either Alabama or LSU from the West, this is an elimination game for one of these teams.
Both teams have plenty to prove and are looking at this game as a statement game. Tennessee is trying to prove that they have turned the corner and are not doomed to repeat their 2011 season despite a similar start.
Florida, on the other hand, is trying to prove they are still an elite team in the Eastern division and have no plans to dwell in the land of mediocrity for a third straight season.
Both teams head into Saturdays showdown with a similar resume. A strong win away from home and a cupcake victory in front of the home crowd. However, at this point, this is all we know.
Florida will come into Neyland Stadium with a strong defense and a spotty offense. The Vols, on the other hand, will bring a strong offense and a spotty defense to this potential slug-fest. In my opinion, the key matchup of this game will be the Vols wide receivers against the Gators defensive backs.
Will Muschamp and company will try to bring a physicality on the edges that the Tennessee wide receivers have not experienced. Muschamps' calling card on defense has been his press coverage since he became a defensive coordinator at Auburn in 2006.
With star wide receivers Justin Hunter, just returning from an injury, and Cordarrelle Patterson, in his first ever SEC game, the Gators are scheming to take them out of the game physically. However, the dynamic duo has combined for 26 receptions for 383 yards and five total touchdowns in their first two games of the season.
This matchup is key because the Gators will dominate the Vols anemic running game. Last season, the Tennessee rushing attack only averaged 2.8 yards per carry and 1,081 total rushing yards. In the first two games, the Vols' running game has not looked as improved as the coaching staff might have hoped.
Despite a limited running game, the Vols are too good on offense with Tyler Bray not to get at least two scores through the air. Bray, once again, is off to a hot start completing 45-of-61 passes for 643 yards and six touchdowns. However, perhaps even more importantly, he has zero interceptions.
As I mentioned prior, Tennessee will not be shut out. The question is: can the questionable Florida offense match the Vols production when needed? If the answer is yes, it will be spelled M-i-k-e G-i-l-l-i-s-l-e-e.
Gillislee has scored all of Florida's touchdowns and accumulated 231 yards. Moreover, the Vols have not stopped the rush this season either. The only team that Tennessee has played with a pule is North Carolina State in the season opener. The Wolfpack carried the ball 21 times for 101 yards.
If the Gators can run the ball well, they can control the time-of-possesion which is crucial if they are going to beat Derek Dooley's Vols. Tennessee is expected to stack the box versus Florida early. If so, Can Jeff Driskal keep the Vols defense honest? By most accounts, Driskel was serviceable against Texas A&M. He will need to be a better game manager to win this game.
This is a tough game to call in Week 3. Neither team has given us enough trends to properly analyze this game. On the season I have only missed two games. The Tennessee home opener and Arkansas last week. I will not go against the Vols this week in another toss-up prediction.
Predicted Score: Tennessee 24 Florida 20
Stat Line: Tyler Bray throws three touchdowns and two interceptions.