Well, the Vols have played 3 games, but Tennessee’s season really gets going Saturday night at Florida.

Vols fans are looking forward to this game like they always do and … wait, I’m being told that it isn’t the late 1990s/early 2000s anymore. So no … most Vols fans are not looking forward to this game.

I’m old enough to remember a time when Tennessee not only held its own in this series but thrived in it. From 1998-2004, the Vols held a 4-3 edge in the rivalry. That included 2 straight wins at The Swamp. Where have you gone, Casey Clausen … Vol Nation turns its lonely eyes to you. Woo. Woo. Woo.

Phillip Fulmer and that UT coaching staff used to panic in games against the Gators. But they got past the fear and turned that matchup into must-see TV. The winner used to have the inside track at the division title and a spot in the SEC title game.

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Tennessee online sports betting officially launched on November 1, 2020, and many of the largest sportsbooks are live and operating in the volunteer state. Tennessee is only one of a handful of SEC football states with legalized sports betting.

But once Urban Meyer arrived at Florida in 2005, the rivalry changed. The Gators have won 15 of the past 16 meetings in this series. The Gators have won in blowout fashion (59-20 in 2007) and they’ve won in nail-biters (simply too many examples to list).

Whether it was Lane Kiffin, Derek Dooley, Butch Jones or Jeremy Pruitt in charge at Tennessee, the results have almost always been the same. Only the 2016 game has been a positive result for UT.

I wonder how different things would be in this rivalry if former Tennessee AD John Currie not dragged his feet in 2017 and locked up Dan Mullen. The Vols had fired Jones a few weeks prior and had been communicating with Mullen, then the Mississippi State coach. Florida fired Jim McElwain and spent a few weeks trying to get former Oregon and Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly to take the job (he said no) and then Central Florida coach Scott Frost to take the job (he said no as well).

Mullen was by most accounts Tennessee’s first choice. He was absolutely Florida’s third choice. But because Tennessee couldn’t get Mullen to commit, it gave Florida the time they needed to kick the tires on Kelly and Frost before bringing their former offensive coordinator back home.

Since then, Tennessee is 0-3 against Mullen’s Gators, swept by a combined score of 112-43. None of the games has been close. If the Vols had Mullen on their sidelines, they most definitely would have been better offensively than what they were under Pruitt. And there’s no guarantee Florida hires someone better than Mullen. Remember, their track record post-Urban wasn’t stellar. Neither Will Muschamp nor McElwain were fully embraced by Gators fans. Maybe they would have had their own version of Schiano Sunday. Who knows.

If Mullen goes to Tennessee, the Vols are probably in better shape today and Florida is likely in worse shape.

Which brings us to 2021 and Week 4. Tennessee has played one decent team (Pittsburgh) and lost that game. That loss looks worse after Pitt fell to Western Michigan in Week 3. Florida has played one very good team (Alabama), and nearly pulled off a massive upset. The Gators made all sorts of mistakes and still were in position to tie the game late in the 4th quarter.

We will break this game down later in the week with the always highly anticipated Fearless Prediction, but I think you know how I’m leaning.

Florida Week used to mean so much in Knoxville. And the odds are the latest meeting won’t be one that Tennessee fans cherish. It’s up to Josh Heupel to give those fans a reason to believe again.