GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida coach Will Muschamp and Tennessee coach Derek Dooley have more in common than deep SEC roots and a history with Alabama coach Nick Saban.
Their depth charts alsp are similar. They show that the two former Saban assistants aren't hesitant to use younger players.
That's evident in Dooley's second season at UT. It's just as apparent in Muschamp's first season at Florida.
If you projected Florida's starting lineup for this season after its bowl game, you wouldn't recognize some of the names that will start Saturday in The Swamp against Tennessee. The change tells you how little respect Muschamp had for the status quo.
Nick Alajajian, Ian Silberman and Matt Patchan were projected as starters on the offensive line. By the end of preseason camp, all three were backups. Jonotthan Harrison, a redshirt sophomore with only one career start, won the center job; redshirt freshman Chaz Green claimed a tackle spot; and Notre Dame transfer Dan Wenger moved in at guard.
Wenger was an unexpected plus. He's a sixth-year senior who started 19 games at Notre Dame in between multiple injuries. When he transferred, he was reunited with Charlie Weis, who signed him for Notre Dame as a head coach and is now the offensive coordinator at Florida.
The revamped line, which includes returning starters Jon Halapio and Xavier Nixon, has helped the Gators average 248.5 yards in their first two games.
Muschamp also has shaken up the secondary, which includes cornerback Marcus Roberson and safety De'Ante Saunders, who became the first true freshman duo to start a season opener for Florida. Cornerback Cody Riggs, who started three games last year as a true freshman, and sophomore safety Matt Elam are the other starters — at least until injured junior cornerback Jeremy Brown is healthy enough to play.
The lack of experience in the secondary could jeopardize the Gators' chances against a passing game as effective as UT's has been the first two games. But those young starters bode well for Florida's future.
The youth is obvious in every area of its team. The Vols are young. The Gators are even younger.
Nineteen of Florida's first- or second-team defensive players are freshmen or sophomores. Fifteen offensive players on their two-deep depth chart are freshmen or sophomores.
The Gators start only one senior on defense and four on offense. That's not much different from the Vols, who start one senior on offense and three on defense. And like the Gators, UT depends heavily on freshmen and sophomores.
So many young players have never played such a prominent role in the long-standing SEC rivalry, which helps explain why the Gators and Vols were ranked behind South Carolina and Georgia in many preseason polls.
But it also tells you that no matter how the game turns out Saturday, both teams could be significantly better next season.