So much for the notion that Tennessee's football rivalry with Florida has lost its luster.
ESPN college analyst Kirk Herbstreit added to the hype surrounding Saturday's game, saying this season's matchup in Gainesville could have SEC championship game implications.
"Whoever comes out of this game alive at Florida, whoever survives that game, all the sudden becomes a serious player in trying to take on South Carolina to see who can get there out of the East,'' Herbstreit said Wednesday. "I think both of these teams have the ability to be more competitive than we all thought.
"(Tyler) Bray and these receivers on the road, against the speed of Florida, I cannot wait to watch and see how that turns out.''
Herbstreit, a former quarterback at Ohio State (1989-1993), is among those impressed with Tennessee's sophomore quarterback and the Vols' passing attack heading into Saturday's game (TV: WVLT, 3:30 p.m.) at The Swamp.
"Man alive, Tyler Bray is lights out. This guy doesn't throw many incompletions, he doesn't make many mistakes. Right now he has seven touchdowns and hasn't thrown a pick,'' Herbstreit said. "He has (Da'Rick) Rogers on the outside to go with (Justin) Hunter. They look like old school Tennessee wide receivers where they are long and lean and athletic and get downfield in a hurry.''
Bray ranks sixth in the NCAA with 349 passing yards per game and fifth in passing efficiency with a 204.20 rating. UT's 87 points through the first two games rate 22nd in the nation.
ESPN's College GameDay show Saturday will feature a segment with Bray in the film room with former Florida coach Urban Meyer and NFL draft analyst Todd McShay.
"I still think (Tennessee) is a year or two away with (coach) Derek Dooley, at least at the beginning of the year I felt that way, I thought maybe some of their inexperience would come into play against Cincinnati, where they might be peeking ahead to Florida,'' Herbstreit said. "This is where we're going to find out, is Tennessee really this improved, or is it because of who they've played? Same with Florida ...''
The Gators, who like the Vols opened with a pair of home wins (Florida Atlantic, 41-3; Alabama-Birmingham, 39-0), rank No. 1 in the nation in scoring defense and sixth in total defense (174.5 yards per game). Florida opened as a 10-point favorite.
"(Florida) lost so many guys in the secondary from a year ago ... this will be their first real test,'' Herbstreit said. "In a game like this where Tyler Bray has had a lot of success getting the ball downfield, how will those corners hold up? Will Florida be able to get pressure, to disrupt the rhythm, which not many people have been able to do against Bray?
"I want to see if (Florida coach) Will Muschamp, who's probably about as creative as any coach you're going to find because of his days with Nick Saban, is he able to rely on the defensive front where he doesn't have to leave those corners out there by themselves, or is he going to have to get pretty creative with his blitz package to try to disrupt Tyler Bray and what they are doing?''
Herbstreit said the Gators' defensive line has been highly touted with good reason and could prove pivotal.
"If you have a dominant defensive line, it's amazing how an average secondary becomes good, (and) how you defend the run better because these (defensive linemen) are getting off blocks or occupying blocks and letting linebackers make plays,'' he said. "We talk about SEC defenses and what makes them unique; Florida is kind of the poster child for that; a big strong defensive line that's fast and linebackers that can run to the ball. This will really be the first time that the Tennessee offensive line goes up against guys that can take a game over''
Herbstreit said Tennessee's defense remains a bit of a mystery.
"If there's still a question about Tennessee, it's how their defense can match up man to man with (Florida quarterback John) Brantley and (offensive coordinator) Charlie Weis and what they are trying to do with more of a pro-style attack,'' he said. "I think (Tennessee) feels pretty good about its secondary. I think it's more about how they are in the front, especially the defensive line. (With) Charlie Weis, they'll pound you, and then they'll get creative with screens and draws, and they have your head spinning on what's coming next. It's a real test for the Tennessee defensive line and to see how far along they've come.
"(Running back Chris) Rainey is off to a good start; (running back Jeff) Demps looks like he's back and ready to go. There's a lot of big-play ability on Florida's offensive side of the ball.''
UT ranks 63rd nationally in total defense after its wins over Montana (42-16) and Cincinnati (45-23), yielding 371 yards per game.
The Gators' offense, meanwhile, is 21st in total offense (490 yards per game) and 32nd in scoring offense (40 points per game).
"Is Brantley going to be OK with Weis' offense, is their defense ready to face a quarterback like Bray?'' Herbstreit said. "We're going to know a lot more about both of these teams after they play each other.''
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