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Gators coach Dan Mullen talked tradition and positive outlook at SEC media days

Florida Football Insiders

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Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Tuesday in Atlanta, it was time for Gators boss Dan Mullen to take his turn at the podium (and several other outlets) and be subjected to the SEC’s annual media circus/media days.

The first year Florida coach is no stranger to the media days, as he had done it for the last nine seasons as Mississippi State’s head man.

However, the anticipation and expectation to restore Florida to an SEC power is building and Mullen embraced it, once again:

In particular, when he was asked about the winning culture at Florida, where he was part of on Urban Meyer’s two national championship staffs last decade, Mullen beamed again Tuesday about the job:

“Having been at the University of Florida before…and won multiple championships there, I know what a special place it can be. I think that was big help for me walking into a situation where I had familiarity with a lot of things,” Mullen told the media mass in his main press conference. “I think all the things: the tradition, the University, that Gator standard, all made it a very easy decision for me.”

Mullen was asked about incumbent Feleipe Franks and the quarterback competition, the rivalry with Georgia and so on, in that session, but we were particularly interested when the question turned to transfer receiver Van Jefferson from Ole Miss and his possible eligibility and impact.

First, Mullen answered about the status of the waiver to get Jefferson eligible immediately this season,

“I don’t want to say ‘frustrating,’ cause having done this (wait on NCAA decisions on player eligibility) within the NCAA and as this goes, you just understand that it is a process. As the process plays out, you get a ‘feel.’… Hopefully, we’ll be able to announce something in the near future one way or the other about what’s going on with the transfers.”

We wrote previously that the Jefferson has a chance to be immediately eligible this season, where he would not have in years past, because the SEC changed their rule in May on players leaving one program in the conference for another due to NCAA sanctions, etc., possibly being able to be cleared to play.

Jefferson wasn’t spectacular last year in Oxford, with just 42 catches for 456 yards and one score. However, he’s expected to immediately help infuse the Gators receiving corp with some life, if he can get on the field.

As for what Jefferson would bring, Mullen got somewhat specific Tuesday:

“I think he would have the opportunity to fill a need as a playmaker with experience in this league. And, I think that’s a huge benefit….when you get in big games, that’s been in and played in big games, that’s made big catches in big games, he has experience. And that’s a huge plus.”

So, it was a chance for Mullen to “sell” the Florida program, and oh, flash his new “Jordan Brand” Nike Shoe game, too:

Mullen, was selling the Gators, indeed.

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Florida Gators

Florida and Tennessee Try To Become Relevant- And Watchable

Matt Zemek

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Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

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.

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Florida Gators

2019 SEC schedule released- doesn’t do Gators any favors

Florida Football Insiders

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Southeastern Conference is the front runner of all the major conferences, when it comes to being proactive and staying relevant at all times with the fans and the media. And they demonstrated it, yet again, on Tuesday afternoon, while in the middle of the current SEC football schedule.

That’s because the conference released it’s 2019 league games and dates.

And most Gator fans will be concerned, if not discouraged, to see that the SEC has put Gators game with Auburn at the Swamp on October 5th and then, the next two weeks, have Florida at LSU and at South Carolina. Talk about a “murderers row” lineup of games?!

Florida does open conference play at Lexington, KY, against the Wildcats. And the Gators faithful are still smarting after the Wildcats stopped UF’s 31 game winning streak with an impressive win two weeks ago at the Swamp.

Florida will host Tennessee in it’s now traditional late September matchup slot.

No one can dispute that SEC also puts other programs through difficult stretches too. Yet, in Florida will come off their bye (as they have traditionally been given) to play the top team right now in the East.

We already knew that the Gators in state rival book ends of playing Miami in the opening game Labor Day weekend in Orlando, and then playing host to  FSU on this year’s docket.

Now, four games  in a row with Auburn, LSU, South Carolina and Georgia?

Won’t be easy for coach Dan Mullen’s second season.

 

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Florida Gators

Kentucky ends dubious streak outplaying Gators Saturday night

Florida Football Insiders

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

In November of 1986: Ronald Reagan was in the White House, “Top Gun” with Tom Cruise had been #1 in the movie theaters and Kentucky found a way to beat Florida 10-3 that season.

Since that time, a streak spanning 31 consecutive losses had created humiliation for the Wildcats, when taking on the Gators.

Well, the wait is over after a tremendous performance Saturday night in the Swamp, Kentucky has ended their drought with a 27-16 win.

Quarterback Terry Wilson threw for two touchdowns and ran for another as Kentucky built a 21-10 fourth-quarter lead. And in the end, the Gators did not have enough rally in them.

Despite quarterback Felipe Franks getting them in the end zone with a 99-yard drive and 3:34 remaining, Florida could get no closer as the Cats put it away late.

Running back Benny Snell hammered Florida for 175 yards on 27 carries. And, time and again, he picked up key first downs to keep drives alive.

The loss is particularly stinging because it was not only an SEC game but the home opener with first year head coach Dan Mullen.

A week ago, Franks was brilliant against lesser competition in Charleston Southern with five first-half touchdown passes. Saturday night he was below 50% completion percentage at 17 of 38 for 232 yards 2 touchdowns and one interception.

Franks pulled the Gators within five points at 21-16, when he capped a 99 yard drive by hitting Freddie Swain from four yards out and 3:34 remaining. The Wildcats held on the important two point conversion when Franks threw incomplete out of the back of the end zone.

The Gators got the ball back one last time with under :30 remaining, but on the final play of the game, Franks was sacked and Kentucky eventually ran the fumble into the end zone for a TD to end the scoring.

Kentucky’s victory snaps the longest losing streak of one team against another in FBS football.

The Gators have to get over the humbling defeat at home and get ready to play Colorado State next week.

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