SEC Football: 5 Reasons Why Florida Gators Will Be Better Than Tennessee Vols
Tennessee and Florida will have an excellent opportunity to prove that last season was a fluke, but as Florida fans, there are not many teams that we despise more than Tennessee. And for the last six years, the Gators have dominated Tennessee and have clearly been the better team.
Entering the 2011 college football season, the Florida Gators and Tennessee Volunteers are experiencing similar issues that both teams must deal with.
Both programs have new coaching staffs with Derek Dooley entering his second year as head coach at Tennessee and Will Muschamp at Florida for his first year.
And both teams have a very underwhelming season in 2010, with Florida only going 8-5 and Tennessee not even reaching .500 at 6-7.
In 2011, the Gators will once again be a better team than Tennessee and here are five reasons why.
1. Defensive Line
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One of the most important aspects of any SEC team is the defensive line.
If you look at past teams in the SEC that have gone on to win championships, they have all had excellent defensive lines.
Tennessee's defensive line will be anchored by Malik Jackson. After transferring in from USC, Jackson made an immediate impact at defensive tackle. He finished with 48 tackles, including five sacks and 11 tackles for loss. He was named to the All-SEC second team after the 2010 season.
The Vols will also feature some younger talent, but Jackson is the true gem of this line. And while he will be a consistent force for Tennessee, the rest of the line could be questionable throughout the season.
The Gators will be led by defensive tackles Jaye Howard and Omar Hunter. These two tackles have already been starting or playing in the majority of games for the past two seasons. Both Hunter and Howard will provide that upperclassman leadership that this defensive line so desperately needs.
What pushes the Gators defensive line pass the Vols, however, is impact sophomores Dominique Easley and Sharrif Floyd. Both these players are very quick off the line and can immediately affect the opponent's passing and running attack.
It makes the defensive tackle position the deepest position on the Gators' depth chart, boasting the likes of four quality options at defensive tackle.
With these four rotating throughout the game and with the added pressure of Ronald Powell and Jelani Jenkins blitzing off the edge, the Gators' defensive line could be one of the best in the conference in 2011.
2. Running Back Depth
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A growing trend in college football is the presence of quality multiple running backs for one team, rather than just one.
The Tennessee Volunteers' running attack relies solely on the play of Tauren Poole.
Poole is a fantastic runner who had great numbers in 2010 with 1,034 rushing yards, which ranked him sixth in the SEC. He also scored 11 touchdowns and averaged 5.1 yards per carry.
And while Poole is one of the top returning running backs in the SEC, he struggled with consistency in 2010. A lot will be put on Poole's shoulders and he will have to deliver every game if the Vols expect to make some noise this season.
Unfortunately, behind Poole, Tennessee does not have any other legitimate running back threat. Their second option at running back, David Oku, only amassed 174 yards last season. If Poole is shut down during any game, Tennessee won't have another legitimate option in the backfield, which will essentially make them one-dimensional for the time being.
On the other hand, the Florida Gators have three running backs who have all seen starting time over the past few seasons. And while Jeff Demps, Chris Rainey and Mike Gillislee have all had their struggles with consistency and fighting off the injury bug, their varying running styles should keep defenses on their toes for much of the game.
Not to mention, the added threat of athlete Trey Burton in the backfield will be important. Although he is no longer the quarterback, you can expect him to get some carries throughout the season and we all know that he has the ability to make the big play, especially after his six touchdowns against Kentucky in 2010.
The Gators do not have any running back that will simply blow you away, but the combination of the four players and their different styles of running could do a lot of damage to a defense throughout the course of a game.
3. Jelani Jenkins
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One of the biggest things that the Florida Gators have going for them is having Jelani Jenkins to anchor their linebacking corps.
Jenkins proved he was worthy of that 5-star ranking in high school and recorded 76 tackles as a redshirt freshman. That ranked him second on the team and he was tops among SEC freshman in tackles. He was later named to the All-SEC Freshman team.
Heading into his second season as a starter, Jenkins has the potential to exceed expectations again and could possibly become one of the best linebackers in the SEC. He can move anywhere around the field and he is the team's most reliable tackler. Jenkins could be a true game-changer in 2011.
The Tennessee Volunteers do not have this kind of linebacker to support the middle of the defense. Nick Reveiz was the Vols' quarterback of the defense last year and he has graduated and moved on to the NFL.
So for the time being, the Vols will be searching for another linebacker to replace Reveiz and until then, their linebacking corps could suffer. It might be tough for Tennessee to stop the elite SEC running backs if they get through the defensive line, which could cause a lot of problems for the Vols.
As the football season progresses, the Gators' defense will be in much better shape with a solid player like Jenkins in the middle of their defense.
4. Experience at Offensive Skill Positions
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The Tennessee Volunteers could arguably have more talent on offense with Tyler Bray, Tauren Poole, Justin Hunter, and Da'Rick Rogers, among others.
However, with the exception of Tauren Poole, most of the Volunteer offensive threats are in their sophomore year.
Bray was given the starting job halfway through the 2010 season and he threw an impressive 18 touchdowns in just his freshman season. But Bray will still have a lot of growing up to do and could experience the growing pains most sophomore quarterbacks go through during the season.
They also lost their top three receivers: Denarius Moore, Gerald Jones and Luke Stoker. All three graduated and Moore and Stocker were signed by NFL teams. Hunter and Rogers will be Bray's new primary targets, but it is still in doubt how they will adjust to being the big targets in the passing attack.
The Florida Gators's starting quarterback, top two running backs, and primary wide receiver will all be seniors in 2011.
Brantley struggled in 2010, but a new pro-style offense and the experience he has already received in his years at Florida should pay off in 2011.
Both Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey are seniors and will be the leaders on offense this season. Rainey has been looking good in spring and summer practice and looks poised to have a breakout season. Demps and Rainey realize that this is their last season to make an impression on NFL scouts before they enter the draft.
While the Vols' players might have a higher ceiling, I believe the experience of the Gators' offensive players will pay more dividends for their team in 2011.
5. Florida's Home Crowd
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Even though I think the Gators are the better overall team than the Vols, a lot will still come down to their matchup in Gainesville to kick off their conference schedules.
Florida faces a much tougher conference schedule than Tennessee, as the Gators will face Alabama, LSU, Auburn and Georgia in four consecutive weeks.
But the result of the Florida-Tennessee game could dictate how each program's season turns out. Both teams are relatively young, and winning their first conference game of the 2011 season could establish a lot of confidence in the players.
Fortunately, for the Gators, the matchup against Tennessee will be in Gainesville, and this provides Florida with a distinct advantage in the game.
The atmosphere of The Swamp will make it very difficult for Tyler Bray and company to come away with a win.
Although Florida lost three games at home last season, the new coaching staff and renewed energy will help restore the mystique surrounding The Swamp.
I believe the Gators will beat the Vols for the seventh straight season. The win will give the Gators an advantage over the Vols throughout the season and most likely a better overall record in 2011.