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Staff Picks: Vols vs Florida

How confident is the RTT staff in Tennessee ending a ten-year losing streak to Florida this weekend?

Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

After going 3-4 against Oklahoma, the staff bounced back with the team last week against Western Carolina, going 7-0 straight up (surprised?) and 6-1 against the spread. Closest to the Pin among the staff members goes to Will, whose 55-13 prediction was just a field goal off on both margin and total for the Vols 55-10 romp. But most of the staff was within ten points on both margin and total, and sneaking in ahead of Will was the Rocky Top Talk Staff Average, whose 54-12 prediction was also three off on the margin but missed by just one on the total.

Things get tougher this week, as Tennessee travels down to Gainesville for their first road game of the season, looking to bag a win in their first SEC game and end a losing streak to Florida that's gone on ten years too long. Will they do it? Let's go to the picks.

Incipient (3-0 straight up, 3-0 against the spread): The way I see it, there are two storylines that could come out of this game. One is the familiar one. Florida has a frightening defensive front, and with Tennessee's struggles in the passing game, it's not hard to see the Vols bottled up. With Jones' struggles to close out the tossup games, 17-13 Florida is a pretty reasonable scoreline.

The other is the one we want. Tennessee's defense is good enough to hold Florida to next to nothing, and they've consistently won the field position and turnover battle this year. The offense showed in the first quarter against Oklahoma that they can move the ball at times, and if they can get a lead with scripted plays, force an inexperienced Florida team to chase the game, and avoid going into a shell, they could break through in style.

The game isn't in front of the home fans, and it doesn't have the kind of pressure that the Oklahoma game had two weeks ago. It's still a big game, but Tennessee should be able to play a little bit looser than they did in the last two Checker Neyland games. I'm still not convinced they can win a nailbiter right now, but they have shown an ability to come out firing, and if they can keep their foot on the gas this time, the Vols should be able to get some short fields and score a lot more points than their offense has any right to, giving us the game we've been dreaming of for years and giving the team a desperately needed shot of confidence to begin SEC play. I'm 50/50 between win big and lose close. I'm going win big. Fingers crossed. Tennessee 34 Florida 7

Hunter (2-1 straight up, 1-2 against the spread): Consider the long line of Tennessee losses to Florida-- and our reaction to it-- as a version of the Gambler's Fallacy. In the beginning of the streak, it seemed that each consecutive defeat meant that a win the next year became more probable. After all, the Fulmer teams of the early 2000s were often evenly matched on paper with the Zook and Meyer squads from Gainesville. Surely a corrective win was in the cards.

Recently, however, the opposite mantra has taken hold, albeit delivered by the same reasoning-- Tennessee keeps losing to Florida, so another Tennessee loss is probable. The streak will continue.

Both of these predictions are the product of faulty reasoning. Although football games are not completely independent events, the players on this year's teams were in elementary school when the streak began. Because of turmoil within each program, only a handful of the players, coaches, trainers, and staff on the sidelines has enough experience against the other side to make it a rivalry.

Here's what we do know: Tennessee is better than Florida almost across the board. At the most important positions on the field, the Vols are more experienced and more talented: quarterback, defensive line, and even, improbably, offensive line. The Gators could win this game, because the better team doesn't always win-- but it's time for fans and our own writing staff to realize that there's no preordained outcome nor destiny at work here. Tennessee 28 Florida 14

Chris (3-0 straight up, 3-0 against the spread): This series. Man, this series. Florida and Tennessee are fairly well matched, the best units on the field will be the defenses, and the worst unit at the Swamp will be in the booth. (I'm super excited to hear Gary Danielson spend two hours either extolling the virtues of screen passes for 1 yard and/or talk about how these teams both are running the spread as Tennessee takes their 12th under-center two-back formation snap of the day.)

Things I like: Tennessee's field position advantages, Florida's secondary, Florida's home-field advantage, Tennessee's running game. Things I don't like: Tennessee's offensive playcalling, the outsized influence both defenses will have on this game, the flashbacks I get to how hideous 10-9 was to watch on an aesthetic level, Florida's ability to actually put the game away, Florida's ability to lose if they're ahead, my ability to think Tennessee will actually win this game even though I want to do what I_S did and call for a blowout.

Call it 17-14 as both teams rush to give the game away and I write 350 words on why running twelve straight stretch plays to the boundary really isn't how you come back in the fourth quarter. Pass the Maalox. Florida 17 Tennessee 14

Charlie (2-1 straight up, 2-1 against the spread): I want to say Tennessee will win. I really do. On paper, Tennessee has more talent at almost every position. The Vols have a more established coach, Florida fans aren't completely engaged, and UF will be fielding a freshman quarterback with no backup. Even the Gators 2nd best defensive player is suspended. By all accounts, the Vols should win this game. BUT, it's Florida. Tennessee has a gargantuan mental block against succeeding when playing the Gators. I'm convinced at some point in the next few years, UT will have an 11-1 season and the one loss will be to a completely mediocre Florida team. Maybe facing a coach that's not Will Muschamp will help, who knows? I don't even want to dive into the semantics of player matchups and schemes. Tennessee could have the perfect game plan and still lose. This game will be an unwatchable schlock-fest like it is every year and both defenses will rule the day. Florida 15 Tennessee 14

Nathanael (2-1 straight up, 2-1 against the spread): I did it last year, and it looks like I'm going to do it again this year. I'm choosing to ignore the "I'm not picking the Vols until they win" mindset against the Gators because I think it's silly. That kind of thinking only perpetuates negativity around the team and your own life. The Vols have the better team and SHOULD win this game. They're the favorites (thanks to a couple suspensions on Florida's end) and they should be. Florida may have more talent in specific spots, but the Vols just have better overall talent. This is the most important game of the season for the team and for Butch Jones, and God help him if they fail to deliver like they did last year. A late score will put this one out of reach, and the Vols will mercifully end the 10 year streak this year. Tennessee 20 Florida 10

Joel (2-1 straight up, 2-1 against the spread): Florida 20 Tennessee 17

Will (3-0 straight up, 3-0 against the spread): Let's put all that other stuff down.  I think Tennessee is going to win this game because I think Tennessee has the better team.  The Vols have had a comparable team the last two times we've met in Neyland Stadium.  But I think you have to go back to Ron Zook or Urban Meyer's first year to find the last time Tennessee was just better than Florida.  It doesn't always work that way (and didn't in Meyer's first year), but I think the Vols are actually the safer pick the same way I thought Oklahoma was the safer pick two weeks ago.  Both teams are young, both teams are flawed, and both will rely on defense to make the biggest impact here.  But every issue we think Tennessee has, Florida also has minus a year of experience.  The Vols may not be the better team every week this fall.  But they will be tomorrow. Tennessee 27 Florida 16

Rocky Top Talk Staff Average (2-1 straight up, 2-1 against the spread): Tennessee 22 Florida 14

Vegas (for reference): Tennessee -1.5. Over/under 48. Tennessee 25 Florida 23