Yes, every year when Tennessee plays Florida it’s a big game. It always has been, and it always will be. For a while, winning this game meant an almost certain ticket to represent the east division in the SEC Championship. Now, especially this year, it’s significant to the Vols for a vastly different reason. And boy, do we ever need it.
It’s no secret that this season hasn’t gone quite how anyone expected so far. The Vols just picked up their first win against UTC and are sitting at 1-2 on the season, at a time when most thought we would be 3-0. After two embarrassing losses, the Vols were able to collect themselves on Saturday and play a complete, dominating game. That certainly doesn’t forgive the horrendous start, but it’s progress. And this Saturday in the Swamp, Tennessee has a chance to fast track that progress. The future impact in recruiting is huge. Win, and you have the chance to show that the struggles of the past are behind us to future recruits.
The 9th ranked Gators look vulnerable, folks. In fact, them still being ranked in the top 10 is mind boggling to many people, including me. But they’re 3-0, so they haven’t given an obvious reason for them to drop in the polls. But this is not an SEC Championship team. Sure, they have a really good front-7/pass rush, but it seems like the Gators have that every year. Everywhere else, the 2019 Florida Gators look very beatable. Their starting QB Feliepe Franks is done for the year after a nasty ankle injury in Lexington. They were losing for most of the game against Kentucky, but the Wildcats gave the game away (stop me if you’ve heard that one before), and handed the Gators a win. Again, they’re 3-0, but this team is struggling in just about every facet of the game right now.
I know about the fact that there’s always an unsung hero for the Gators that somehow has a herculean performance against us. I know all too well. We all do. But the Vols have a tremendous opportunity ahead of them Saturday. A win against the Gators is good no matter what happens the rest of the season. I’m not saying a 2-10 season is ideal, but you know what I mean. This series just means more than the rest. Sure Alabama and Georgia are there also, but we’ve still got a while before those are big time competitions. The opportunity to get back to .500 overall, be 1-0 in the SEC, and win a big time rivalry game on the road is there. Add in the fact of the team knowing now that it can win big games, (something that has been missing for a while), and you’ve suddenly got a team with a completely new mindset. That pays dividends for the future, especially instilling it into a freshman class who’s talent looks like it could take us to great places.
But none of this happens without Jarrett Guarantano. The Vols QB was supposed to take a big leap forward this year under the tutelage of new OC Jim Chaney. He showed flashes last year, but has been very underwhelming so far this year to say the least. He’s got the arm talent, there’s no doubt about that. But his decision making and ability to go through his progressions (or lack thereof) has killed us this year. On Saturday, he won’t have an easy road either, as the Gators defense leads the SEC in sacks through 3 games. But if Jarrett Guarantano can go out against the Gators and take care of the football, minimize negative yardage plays, and make the throws he should make, the Vols can definitely win this game.
Will the Vols win this game? I have no clue, and no one else does either. Is there a good opportunity for the Vols to win this game? Oh yeah, probably the best chance out of the last several years. They’ve got a big chance to also sell recruits on the thought that the struggles are in the past. And they can show it against a rival team and rival for those same recruits. The only reason you’re not hearing more chatter about a Vols win (other than the fact that we’re all so emotionally damaged) is because it’s on the road. But the Vols went down to Auburn last year and got a big win, so I wouldn’t let that heavily sway your thinking.
If the Vols can somehow win this game, the first 2 weeks aren’t automatically forgiven, but they will definitely be further back in the rearview mirror for everybody. And if that happens, we may be looking at a rejuvenated season that was once thought to be dead. With a team full of guys with a completely new mindset of knowing they can win, that can change a program. And that not only helps the rest of this season as the Vols look to reach a bowl game, but for the next years to come.
Gambling this season? Want to try it just to see what it feels like? Go to MyBookie.ag and use promo code ARMCHAIR25 at checkout. They will match your deposit dollar for dollar. Putting in $100? You’ll now have $200.