Thanks to a schedule shuffle that has moved Auburn vs. LSU to later in the year, there's once again no doubt as to whom The Third Saturday in September belongs. And whatever happens in Kiffin/Meyer I, it guarantees to be interesting. Elsewhere, a non-conference rivalry finds its new home on the schedule here, Gene Chizik gets a big test at home, and life gets no easier for Georgia...
GAME OF THE WEEK
Tennessee at Florida
For ten consecutive seasons, Tennessee and Florida dominated the SEC landscape. In each of their ten meetings from 1992-2001, both teams were ranked in the Top 15, and UT and UF played four of those games where both teams were in the Top 5. With Steve Spurrier's departure following the 2001 season, the game lost some of its flair...and despite two incredible football games in 2004 and 2006, the Gators' return to national glory under Urban Meyer has been matched with the fall of Phillip Fulmer, meaning that it's been almost ten years since this game truly had the nation's attention.
But this year, the game will return to the national landscape...not because both teams will be ranked in the Top 5, but because of the arrival of Lane Kiffin and his subsequent verbal assault on Florida and Meyer.
The Gators have all the things you already know: two National Championships in three years, and the greatest football player and human being to ever step foot on the earth playing quarterback. Because of Florida's greatness, and the fact that they don't play Ole Miss this season, beating Lane Kiffin is really the only new opportunity they have on their schedule. Having won all these championships, it would be easy to get complacent, but instead Kiffin has given the Gators motivation to do something new by beating him.
Tennessee is still much the same team on paper that went 5-7 last year, and the one that's lost four straight to Florida, the last two 59-20 and 30-6. Meyer has noticed Kiffin's verbal jabs, as Tennessee's logo is in their locker room and Urban himself has thrown some unprovoked barbs back Tennessee's way while sounding his usual incredibly cheerful self. So yeah, the expectation is "Gators by as much as they want to", citing the 49-10 beatdown Georgia received from Florida last season, the last team to get under Urban's skin.
Does Tennessee have any chance? Well...the Vols will be playing with confidence if they can get past UCLA the previous week, and there is a level of total uncertainty with this coaching staff in their first big game. On paper you can't make a serious argument for the upset, but of course, that's why they play the games.
While this is still Knoxville and we still don't celebrate losses, being competitive and progressive against the Gators would be a good thing. In the last five quarters against Florida, Tennessee has been totally noncompetitive. Part of Fulmer's problem wasn't just that he was losing, it's that the Vols looked so bad and often quite hopeless in doing so. Even in a loss, Kiffin can give Vol fans and his team hope in this contest. Will we see progress? Or will Florida continue to dictate their will to the Vols?
OTHER GAMES OF INTEREST
Louisville at Kentucky
West Virginia at Auburn
Georgia at Arkansas
Mississippi State at Vanderbilt
The Cats now get a tune-up before facing U of L, with UK looking for an impressive third straight win in this series. West Virginia may ultimately turn out to be a very good football team, but it'll take time to see it and Gene Chizik could get a huge, huge boost here - SEC fans always, always expect to win at home in the non-conference, and despite a potential talent gap this game will be no different.
Georgia will be only a third of the way through their opening gauntlet, and while this game doesn't look as menacing as Oklahoma State and South Carolina before it, or Arizona State and LSU following it, this could be a huge road land mine. It's Year Two for Bobby Petrino, and nothing would jump start his tenure in Fayetteville like a win over UGA here.
And whoever wins the MSU/Vandy game will do their season a huge favor; wins should be precious for either team, but if Dan Mullen wants to get off to a good start and if Bobby Johnson wants Vandy to start making bowl games the rule instead of the exception, they both have to have this one.
THE REST OF THE SCHEDULE
North Texas at Alabama
LA-Lafayette at LSU
SE Louisiana at Ole Miss
Florida Atlantic at South Carolina