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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The pregame hype for Florida-Tennessee plummeted to a record low Monday.
Forget Florida vs. Tennessee. This is Florida vs. Team X.
UT isn't the hated rival that the Gators love beating into submission. It is — in the words of defensive tackle Omar Hunter — a "nameless, faceless opponent."
I could imagine a Florida player quote starting out like that in the mid-1990s, aka the pop-off era of the rivalry. Former Florida offensive tackle Mo Collins might have referred to the Vols as a "nameless, faceless opponent that doesn't deserve being on the same field with us."
Hunter didn't mean his characterization as a slight. He was simply parroting what apparently has become the company line under new Florida coach Will Muschamp, who, like most coaches, expects his players to prepare, practice and play at the same high level regardless of the opponent.
One player after another followed Hunter's lead during media interviews Monday. Only Trey Burton would admit the game was of any greater significance than the last two against Florida Atlantic and UAB, which Florida outscored 80-3.
Don't get the wrong idea. In breaking from the rank and file, Burton was merely distinguishing between nonconference and conference games. UT-Florida matters more because it's an SEC game, not because of the rivalry. So if you're adjusting the marquee based on Burton, make it "Florida vs. SEC Team X."
Nobody mistook Tennessee for Team X when Urban Meyer was running the Chomp Shop. Not that he condoned taking Saturday off against the likes of UAB and Florida Atlantic. But he attacked rivalry games with more intensity and imagination. His Gators responded by going 6-0 against the Vols and 16-2 against UT, Georgia and Florida State combined.
That record is now Muschamp's burden to bear. It's just one of the reasons there's more pressure on the Gators and him on Saturday than the Vols and coach Derek Dooley.
In winning the last six games, the Gators have beaten the rivalry lopsided. The Vols have won only five consecutive games against Vanderbilt.
The margin of victory is even more illuminating. Florida won those six games by an average of 16.2 points. UT's average margin of victory in the last five games against the Commodores is 13.8.
You can't argue with the numbers. Tennessee vs. Vanderbilt has become a more competitive rivalry than Tennessee vs. Florida.
In fact, the UT-Florida rivalry became so one-sided on Meyer's watch that coach Lane Kiffin received critical acclaim when his one UT team lost by only 10 points against Florida two years ago in The Swamp.
Meyer's overall success at Florida left Muschamp with one of the toughest acts to follow in college football. The act is even tougher to follow in rivalry games, especially when the rival is UT.
The ranking and point spread reflect the way the rivalry has gone. Florida is No. 16 and an 8- to 9-point favorite playing at home.
The Vols are just an unranked underdog trying to make a name for themselves.