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After a Decade, the Tennessee-Florida Rivalry is Back on Track

One of the SEC’s better rivalries appears to be back to where it once was.

NCAA Football: Florida at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

It’s no secret that the Tennessee Volunteers are coming out of one of the worst droughts in school history on the football field. 2008-2014 were some of the darkest times in program history. It was the end of Phillip Fulmer, the year of Lane Kiffin, the Derek Dooley nightmare and Butch Jones trying to steer the ship out of the darkness.

It was a mess.

During this span, Tennessee went from a national power and consistent threat in the SEC East to a pushover. During that same time, Florida hit program highs with Urban Meyer. Alabama did the same with Nick Saban — and is still in the midst of it. The landscape changed quickly, leaving Tennessee in the dust.

Those rivalries suffered in a big way because of it. The Florida Gators ripped off 11 wins in a row against Tennessee with most of those games not even being close. But all that began to change as Butch Jones slowly but surely began to level the playing field on the recruiting trail. It’s been a slow climb, but Tennessee and Florida have both come back to the mean.

We really saw this begin in 2014, with that disgusting 10-9 game. It was a game that Tennessee should have won, honestly. This was really the first time that Tennessee had a legitimate shot to beat the Gators since probably 2006. The result wasn’t what we wanted, but it was good to see Tennessee compete again. This was the first step, albeit a painful one.

Then comes the 2015 game. Shield your eyes. You know what happened here — I won’t go into detail. Tennessee was the better team on this day, but a lapse in defense gave the Gators the upper hand late.

Finally after 11 years, Tennessee got over the hump. It took a miraculous comeback, but Tennessee beat the Florida Gators last year. For a group that didn’t get to experience the payoff of a division title, this was easily their biggest accomplishment to me. I’ll always remember Joshua Dobbs, Josh Malone, Derek Barnett and even Jalen Hurd as the group that got Tennessee over this hurdle.

This year, both sides will introduce plenty of new faces into this rivalry. We still don’t know a whole lot about either side. Vegas has the Gators favored by five points, which seems steep considering the week one performance of Florida against Michigan.

The Florida offense will get a big boost with Jordan Scarlett and Antonio Callaway (along with others) back in the mix, we just don’t know when that will be. Florida head coach Jim McElwain said that the players would be suspended “until the situation is resolved.”

Either way, there is no reason why this shouldn’t be a close game. We’ve seen both offenses struggle, so I think we’re all expecting a low scoring affair. Tennessee has to get their rush defense fixed in a hurry, however.

How confident are you as a Tennessee fan as the Volunteers take on Florida?