6 Reasons the Vols Will Be Better Than the Gators
Recently, a misinformed fan wrote an article outlining why the Gators will be better than the Vols. The Coaches Poll, which came out on Thursday, agreed, ranking both Georgia and Florida over Tennessee.
For the record, Georgia and Tennessee had identical records and both lost their bowl games (even though Tennessee would've won under this year's rules). Apparently 6-7 with a bowl loss to a Conference USA team is good enough to be called the 22nd best team in the country.
Florida did have a better 2010 than Tennessee last year, and so the coaches can't be blamed for over-ranking Florida again (they were the preseason No. 4 last year and finished unranked).
Even though they can't be blamed, they still got it wrong. Here are six reasons why:
1. Offensive Line
Tennessee's offensive line struggled a little bit last year because of the youth and inexperience of the players in it. Blocking got better toward the end of the year, though, and now Tennessee's offensive line is one year bigger, stronger, and more experienced, since Tennessee returns all five starters from the offensive line (four of whom were freshmen).
On the other hand, Florida lost tackle Marcus Gilbert, guard Maurice Hurt, and star center Mike Pouncey in the draft. As good as their recruiting has been, experience will weigh heavily in the third game of the season, and Tennessee's line will simply play better.
Tennessee also has depth behind these starters with ESPN 150 guard Marcus Jackson and tackle Tony Richardson as part of 2010's recruit class and Notre Dame transfer Alex Bullard fighting for the starting role at center.
Florida struggled early last year with a lot of bad snaps, and that was with veteran lineman Pouncey snapping the ball. Expect similar struggles next year.
2. Depth at Receiver
Tennessee's crop of receivers is one of the best things about the team. Justin Hunter made an instant impact as a freshman; despite having only 16 receptions, he got in the endzone seven times. Da'Rick Rogers is looking to step up and show why he was ranked by Scout as the fourth best receiving prospect in the nation in 2010.
On top of that, there is DeAnthony Arnett, the incoming freshman who will threaten both Rogers and Hunter for playing time. Scout ranked him as the eighth best receiver in the country last year. If Rogers or Hunter don't stay at the top of their game, their spot will be taken by Arnett faster than you can say "Touchdown Tennessee."
Behind them will be 6'6" sophomore Matt Milton; hard to miss a target that size.
Then there are the tight ends. Mychal Rivera looks to be the starter, but four-star recruit Cameron Clear could see some time too. At 6'4" and 6'6" respectively, both are tall enough to make life difficult for defensive players.
With all of these great targets to throw to, Tennessee's receiving corps is tough to match in both quality and depth. Florida might have the edge in some positions, but at wideout, it's not even close. Bray will have a tough time figuring out who his favorite target is with so many to choose from.
3. Tyler Bray
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When you compare quarterbacks, there is no comparison. John Brantley was supposed to be a better pro prospect than Tim Tebow, but whether or not that's true, Brantley's performance last year was disappointing to say the least.
Brantley threw 2061 yards last year with 6.26 yards per attempt and nine touchdowns to 10 interceptions.
Bray threw 1849 yards with 8.25 yards per attempt and 18 touchdowns to 10 interceptions. He did that as a freshman in only five games.
Sure, maybe Brantley will improve in a pro style system, but since he's only had the offseason to acclimate himself to it, I doubt it.
Speaking of Florida's new system...
4. New Head Coach, New Offensive Coordinator, New Defensive Coordinator...
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One thing Florida fans can brag about is having a great new Head Coach in Will Muschamp and a great new Offensive Coordinator in Charlie Weiss and a great new Defensive Coordinator/D-line coach in Dan Quinn and...wait, do they have any coaches that aren't new? (They also have a new O-line coach, a new defensive backs coach, and a new receivers coach)
Great as they may be, they're all new, and they're all going to want to put in a new system that the players will all have to get used to. If Gator fans expect there to be no hiccups along the way, they're kidding themselves, and since Tennessee faces them in week 3, I don't expect they'll have all the kinks out just yet.
Tennessee has its share of stud coaches too. Justin Wilcox came to Tennessee after spending years turning two-star recruits into one of the best defenses on the country at Boise State. Jim Chaney was the offensive coordinator behind Drew Brees and Kyle Orton; Purdue went to seven bowls during his tenure there.
Muschamp and Dooley come from the same coaching tree, and the two are friends, but I expect Dooley to really want a win against the guy who was offered the Tennessee job before he was, and I expect him to get it.
5. Returning Defensive Stars
Nick Reveiz will be missed, but he was a leader on the defense because he worked hard and knew how to find the ball, not because he was ultra-talented (read big/fast/strong).
Outside of Reveiz, Tennessee returns all of the stars from last year, including Second team All-American corner Prentiss Waggner, Preseason All-SEC defensive tackle Malik Jackson, Second team All-SEC free safety Janzen Jackson, and freshman All-SEC end Jacques Smith.
Add to that under the radar defensive end Chris Walker (six sacks in 2009, preseason All-SEC in 2010), promising strong safety Brent Brewer (30 tackles in six starts), and corner Marsaliss Teague as returning defensive players and the defense looks good to go.
That's a lot of returners. For comparison, here are the defensive starters from last year that Florida lost:
Free safety Will Hill, strong safety Ahmad Black, linebacker A.J. Jones, corner Janoris Jenkins, and defensive ends Duke Lemmens and Justin Trattou.
The only true star that is returning to Florida is Jelani Jenkins, and as good as he is, he can't make up for a field full of rookies. Florida is stacked with talented recruits, but experience wins the day every time.
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Yes, Florida has won the last six games against the Vols, but you know what the thing is about streaks? They end.
Statistically, the longer a streak lasts, the greater the chance that it ends. Tennessee was a lot closer to winning last year than the 31-17 score suggests, and no one doubts that Tennessee is a much better team than they were last year (with so many returning players, how could they not be?).
Florida, on the other hand, lost three of its best offensive linemen and most of their starters on defense, and has an entirely new coaching staff. Are they really any better a team than they were last year?
Put all those factors together and you come up with a streak that's about to come to an end. After all, it has to end some time; the only question is when. If I were a gambling man, I'd put my money on September 17, 2011.