The Tennessee Volunteers are 2-1 on the young season. The Florida Gators are also 2-1. Both the Vols and the Gators beat up on overmatched foes for their victories.

But it’s the losses that tell the real story for both teams.

While the Vols were beaten by a touchdown against Pittsburgh, Florida fell to top-ranked Alabama by 2 points. The Pittsburgh loss looks worse after the Panthers were beaten last weekend by Western Michigan. The Gators proved in a loss that they are good enough to hang with the favorite to win the SEC and national titles.

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Tennessee is trying to get back to the point in which they are competitive against the elite teams in the conference. Florida is there.

Both the Vols and the Gators have some uncertainty at quarterback. Tennessee started Hendon Hooker against Tennessee Tech due to an injury to Joe Milton. Hooker played well, accounting for 4 touchdowns and showing more willingness to run, leading the Vols on the day with 64 rushing yards.

Milton, when healthy, was the preferred option for Tennessee coach Josh Heupel. But right now it looks like Hooker gives them the best chance to win.

For the Gators, Emory Jones is the starter and that’s not changing this weekend. He’s somewhat limited through the air but a real weapon with his feet, rushing for 77 yards against Bama. That said the Gators sorely missed backup Anthony Richardson. He played the 2006 Tim Tebow role to perfection in their first 2 games, but a strained hamstring kept him off the field against the Crimson Tide. If he is able to go against Tennessee, the Vols will have to be prepared to stop the 6-4, 236-pound freak with 4.4 speed.

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The Vols’ defense should see a bunch of running back Malik Davis, who picked up 8.6 yards per rush against the Tide. But this will be a strength-on-strength situation. Tennessee’s rush defense enters the Florida game ranked 17th in the nation against the run, allowing less than 2 yards per rushing attempt.

When the Gators throw, they have a variety of pass catchers to target, including tight end Keon Zipperer and wide receiver Kemore Gamble.

Tennessee’s defense finally was able to force some turnovers, picking off 4 passes against Tennessee Tech after failing to collect a single interception or recover a fumble in the first 2 games.

Florida’s defense isn’t too shabby against the run either, ranking 36th and allowing 2.4 yards per rush. They’ll contend with running backs Tiyon Evans and Jaylen Wright. Jabari Small missed the Tennessee Tech game due to injury, so we’ll see if he plays against UF. Hooker also is a threat.

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UT’s passing game saw some good things out of Velus Jones and JaVonta Payton against Tech, and they should be targeted a good amount once again this Saturday. There is concern over the lack of production from sophomore Jalin Hyatt. After a 4-catch, 62-yard performance in the opener against Bowling Green, Hyatt didn’t record a single catch in either of the past 2 games. Hyatt was expected to have a breakout season. Saturday would be as good a time as any to get him back on track.

It’s no secret that Florida has dominated this rivalry over the past 16 years. Since 2005, the Gators have won 15 of 16 meetings. UT has been blown out in each of the past 4 games.

Right now Florida has better players and better coaches. They have the home-field advantage. Put all of that together and it is difficult to make the case for Tennessee to win.

This doesn’t mean that the Vols can’t turn things around in this rivalry … someday they will.

But that turnaround won’t be on Saturday.

Fearless Prediction time …

Florida 45, Tennessee 24

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