Swamped again? Gators could spoil Vols' season of great expectations
They’re lurking in darkness, waiting to chomp an old rival’s dreams.
They’re the defending SEC East champions, eager to rock Rocky Top once more.
You’re forgiven if the Big Orange has eclipsed the orange and blue in your mind during this time of Tennessee. The Volunteers are the offseason’s Cinderella, looking lavish after mounds of verbal roses were tossed at their cleats. The Gators are the sly villains, hoping the Vols’ carriage becomes a pumpkin before it reaches Atlanta.
It’s easy to see why a second straight SEC East title in Gainesville would be as sweet as a tankful of Gatorade. This is supposed to be Tennessee’s year. This is supposed to be the season Butch Jones delivers on all promise. This is supposed to be the fall Joshua Dobbs, Jalen Hurd, Derek Barnett, Cameron Sutton, Jalen Reeves-Maybin and more make preseason projections become statements.
Meanwhile, Florida enters with unknowns. What about at quarterback, likely with Luke Del Rio? What about the defense moving on without Jonathan Bullard and Vernon Hargreaves III? What about the offensive line?
Ah, but the Gators have become comfortable playing the football-swiping Lucy to the Volunteers’ Charlie Brown.
For Tennessee fans, the tale of the tape against Florida since 2005 looks like the script to “A Clockwork Orange”: Eleven consecutive defeats; three losses in the span by one point, including instances in each of the past two years; a 39-point paddling in 2007; a 24-point tail-kicking in 2008; and three occasions of being held to nine or fewer points.
Each season, clocks were set to the Volunteers being swamped.
The Will Grier-to-Antonio Callaway Hallelujah moment last September at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium became the latest twisted-and-telling chapter in this lopsided dance.
Before their current run, the Gators had never vanquished the Vols more than five consecutive seasons, from 1993 to 1997. Now the rhythms are familiar.
Death. Taxes. Frosty cold ones on fall Saturdays.
Tennessee losing to Florida.
“I don’t really get into that or get involved in that,” Sutton said of the Vols’ rivalry with Florida at SEC Media Days. “That’s not my priority or something I worry about, but obviously we see it because a lot of our guys are connected to social media and it’s something we cannot really turn ourselves from. But we have a lot more to worry about than just that.”
Still, no amount of verbal tap dancing will change the fact that a 12th straight victory for the Gators in the series would feel different. It would be a painful blow to Rocky Top’s underbelly and perhaps create questions about what Tennessee should be under Jones. For the Vols, another Gators appearance in the SEC Championship Game – their fourth since 2006 – would be like swallowing Spam after ordering filet mignon.
That’s why the main course on Sept. 24 in Knoxville will come with a hefty side of spice. Sure, it’s possible that Tennessee can claim the SEC East without a victory over Florida. But the Gators would keep the spell alive. Sure, it’s possible that Jones can satisfy a hungry fan base with the Volunteers’ first trip to the SEC title game since 2007. But Florida would keep that cunning smirk.
Will it be a rare Rocky Top romp? Or more ruthless chomp?
“We are very motivated by them,” Florida offensive tackle David Sharpe said of rivals Tennessee and Georgia at SEC Media Days. “We are ready to play those guys.”
The Vols better be ready for those spoilers from The Swamp, too.