AP Top 25 College Football
Tennessee and Florida are back in the top 25. GameDay is returning to Knoxville.
Just like old times, huh?
Never mind that the Vols (23rd in The Associated Press poll) and Florida (18th) are both in the top 25 the week of their game for the first time since 2007. The rivalry hasn't suddenly been transported back to its glory days.
In the glory days, Tennessee and Florida ruled the division; Georgia and South Carolina provided only a slight upgrade over Kentucky and Vanderbilt. From 1993 through 1999, Tennessee and Florida were a combined 27-1 against Georgia and South Carolina. Only once in those seven seasons did the winner of the UT-Florida game fail to win the SEC East.
The division is topsy-turvy now. And Georgia and South Carolina are on top.
The winner of the UT-Florida game won't even emerge as the division favorite. It merely will become a more viable threat to the Bulldogs and Gamecocks, who are both ranked in the top 10.
UT vs. Florida still matters, though. And it will matter most to the loser.
In the 1990s, UT and Florida had sufficient talent and confidence to rebound from the worst of outcomes in their rivalry. For example, the Vols lost to the Gators 62-37 in 1995 and still finished 11-1 and second in the country, thanks to some bizarre ballots in the coaches' poll.
These Vols and Gators aren't as talented. And you can't expect them to be as confident after totaling 13 losses last year. They hadn't combined for more defeats in a season since 1979 when UT was 7-5 and Florida was 0-10-1.
Both programs have made headway since then. The Vols opened their season by beating a supposedly competent North Carolina State team by 14 points
while ending a six-game losing streak in the Georgia Dome. Florida overcame injuries, a hostile environment, and a 10-point deficit to beat Texas A&M at College Station last Saturday.
But, after last season, you have to wonder how these teams would handle an early season defeat. The loser of this game is assured of adversity, which invariably follows closely on the heels of failed expectations.
History tells us Florida is supposed to win. Odds-makers tell us UT is supposed to win.
If the Vols can't win at home as a favorite against a Florida team handicapped by injuries, you might wonder if the Gators' seven-game winning streak in the series is destined to reach 70. If the Gators can't prevail in a rivalry they have owned, what other calamities could be forthcoming?
In the 1990s, you knew what was coming after Florida vs. Tennessee: winning streaks. From 1995 through 1999, Tennessee's winning streak post-Florida averaged 8.4 games; the Gators averaged a winning streak of 5.2 games after the Vols.
Now, when you look at the two teams' schedules, winning streaks don't come to mind — just tougher opponents.