Chances are you have read a few pieces about the good ol’ days of the Florida-Tennessee football rivalry this week. Those stories are not very different from 2017, or 2016, or 2015, or 2014…
… or 2013, or 2012, or 2011, or 2010.
The last time a Florida-Tennessee game truly captured the imagination of national college football fans was in 2009. That year’s Gators-Vols game was memorable not because of the quality of play on the field, either. The two teams slogged through a very ugly contest. What made that game sizzle on a national level was the infantile, clown-show behavior of then-Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin, who — in a preview of his USC tenure and its own bizarre incidents, detailed here — seemed to be interested in pranking his opponent more than defeating it. Kiffin reveled in playing Tim Tebow — and Urban Meyer’s last great Florida team — close. He coached not to win, but to cover the spread. He was more concerned about Florida being restrained than about Tennessee succeeding.
No wonder Kiffin bailed on the Vols after only one season, taking his mischief to Los Angeles and enduring more seasons of failure.
Yes, that was the last time Tennessee-Florida gained national headlines.
The last time a Tennessee-Florida game was nationally significant (the 2009 Vols were never a threat to do anything in the SEC) was in 2008. The Vols had lost to UCLA in the weeks prior to their reunion with the Gators, but at the time, Rick Neuheisel was the Bruins’ coach. That season-opening loss stung for UT, but there was a belief that UCLA had a chance to be good. The Bruins didn’t become good as that year evolved, but in early September, the mystery of the 2008 season was still abundant as the Vols and Gators prepared to meet.
That mystery remained until kickoff. Florida behind eventual Heisman winner, Tim Tebow, pulled away for a 59-20 win.
The rivalry has failed to improve in the 10 years since that blowout.
Peyton Manning, Al Wilson, Deon Grant, Tee Martin, Peerless Price, Casey Clausen, Travis Stephens.
Danny Wuerffel, Ike Hilliard, Reidel Anthony, Jacquez Green, Tony George, Jabar Gaffney, Rex Grossman.
Tidal waves of delicious memories are associated with those names, the people we remember from the golden age of Vols-Gators. From 1992 through 2001, the first 10 years of the SEC Championship Game, no school other than Tennessee or Florida won the SEC East. Georgia didn’t break through until 2002. UT-UF was always consequential in those years, and from 1995-2001, the game often had national championship implications.
From 1995-1998, either Tennessee or Florida made the national championship game or, at the very least, had a chance to gain a share of the title in the season-ending poll. (UT might have split with Michigan had it been able to upset Nebraska in the 1998 Orange Bowl.) In 2001, the Tennessee-Florida winner was going to enter the SEC Championship Game with a chance to play for a spot in the BCS title game at the Rose Bowl. Tennessee defeated Florida but then got upset by a coach named Nick Saban over at LSU.
If some of the Tennessee-Florida games from 2002 through 2008 still contained a measure of national significance, none matched the stakes presented in 2001, and none matched the heavyweight feel provided by Vols-Gators from 1995 through 2001.
These 17 years after Rex Grossman’s tying 2-point pass fell incomplete in the back of the end zone in The Swamp, Tennessee and Florida are less relevant than ever on the national scene. Saturday’s reunion in Knoxville feels more like a “who might not make a bowl” battle than a contest to see which team might challenge Georgia in the East.
Neither team is in UGA’s zip code right now.
Beyond trying to regain relevance, however, Florida and Tennessee face a shared problem which is hard for fans of both programs to ignore: Not only are these teams not particularly good at the moment; they aren’t even easy on the eyes.
Remember last year’s festival of errors? Remember Butch Jones not giving John Kelly the ball inside the 10? Remember Florida trying to gain some semblance of consistency with its passing game? The 2017 edition of Vols-Gators wasn’t as bad as the 2014 contest in Knoxville which made TV viewers want to gouge their eyes with a fork, but it was still hard to take.
“At least give me a show if you’re going to be bad,” some people might say. At least be entertaining if you’re not going to be elite.
Vols-Gators hasn’t even lived up to that modest level of hope and pleading in a number of its recent iterations.
Yes, maybe Jeremy Pruitt and Dan Mullen will, in the course of time, lift these programs back to where they feel they belong. Yet, it seems clear that these are not quick fixes and not programs which are ready to compete with Georgia. Merely competing with South Carolina this year isn’t a given, though we will soon see.
How far have Tennessee and Florida fallen since 2001 and the glory days of a once-golden rivalry?
Far enough that making substantial improvements in 2018 would not even create championship aspirations — it would merely relieve fears that a total collapse is imminent.
Gators announced home and home series with Cal Friday
The Florida Gators continued their philosophy of striking “home-and-home” deals with Power 5 opposition, when they announced on Friday that they will be doing so with the Cal-Berkley Bears out of the Pac-12 coming later in this decade.
The Gators made the announcement through their website and social media mid-day Friday that they will play Cal at home first and then travel to Berkeley the following year:
Coast to coast❗
🐻 at 🐊 2026
🐊 at 🐻 2027#GoGators
— Gators Football (@GatorsFB) February 7, 2020
A.D. Scott Stricklin has broken up the long tradition that Florida would only play two home out of conference games in September and usually, against much lesser competition before entering SEC play. Stricklin has been very outspoken that in the age of the College Football Playoff, strength of schedule is emphasized and the selection committee holds schools responsible for not playing top-notch out of conference opponents, at least some of the time.
With that in mind, the Gators opened the 2019 season in Orlando against the Miami Hurricanes and won a sloppy game. And, they already have other Power 5 schools laid out to play home and away.
As we previously wrote, Florida will be playing the Texas Longhorns first in Gainesville in 2030 and then. return the game the following year in Austin.
Florida had previously announced last year that they will also play the Colorado Buffaloes out of the Pac-12, again with the first game in Gainesville in 2028 and then, returning it to Boulder the following season.
It’s interesting with Friday’s announcement that Stricklin and the football program are working backwards with the schedule. And, they will now play Cal before Colorado in September of 2026, and then will be opening on the Berkeley campus the following season.
Florida and Cal have only met two times, having played first in Gainesville in 1974 as the Gators wo 21 – 17 and then, they also met in Tampa to open the 1980 season with a Florida 41-13 blowout victory.
Second National Signing Day recap for top state schools
National Signing Day 2020 has come and gone, and several in state schools were able to improve their classes heading into spring ball. The University of Florida watched rival Georgia secure the number one overall class, but the Gators were still able to land the best class in the state with the number eight class overall.
The Gators officially signed former five-star receiver Justin Shorter from Penn State, and Florida stayed in the family today as well, Xzavier Henderson officially joined the Gators. He’s the ounger brother of former DB C.J. Henderson.
Dan Mullen also able to dip into the state of Texas inking four-star DE Princely Umanmielen. It wasn’t all great news for the Gators, as they missed out on a few key guys, including losing out on arguably top state safety Avantae Williams to in state rival Miami. Overall it was a good cycle for the Gators both recruiting and in the transfer portal.
The Miami Hurricanes continued an impressive offseason on National Signing Day. The Canes made arguably the biggest move in the state by landing Williams and keeping him Florida. Williams became the highest rated Hurricane in the class and propelled the U to the number 13 spot.
Miami has the second-best class in the ACC behind Clemson. With an impressive offseason in the books, once again excitement will be in the air in Coral Gables. The question is: will they live up to it in year two for Manny Diaz?
Florida State and new coach Mike Norvell have been working hard to get this class rolling last minute. After a good early National Signing Day Norvell looked to keep the momentum going. The Noles took a big hit Wednesday though, with the loss of Venice four star WR, Malachi Wideman, who flipped to Tennessee.
The Noles came back from that by landing a handful of other recruits. They got the number six Juco running back La’Damian Webb, ass well as, Robert Scott, an offensive lineman and Corey Wren, an athlete/running back.
Replacing Cam Akers will be tough for Norvell and building the offensive line is a top priority. The former Memphis coach came in late like he did, yet he finishes with a decent class sitting at 22 on 24/7.
Now the work begins turning around the former powerhouse.