The Tennessee Vols’ 2024 schedule is out, and there’s a part of it that sticks out greatly. The Vols face the Florida Gators on October 12 in Knoxville and follow that up a week later with a home tilt against the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Knoxville might as well shut down and have a Rio de Janeiro Carnival-type of festival, because those 8-9 days from before Florida to right after Alabama should be a BENDER.
The two matchups will serve as opportunities for the Vols to avenge three of their most disappointing halves of football of the 2023 season. The Vols sleepwalked to a 29-16 loss against a very underwhelming Florida team on September 16. They followed that up with a 34-20 loss to Alabama on October 21 after leading building an impressive 20-7 halftime lead.
Part of the reason for those losses was solid QB play by both Florida’s Graham Mertz (at least in the first half) and Jalen Milroe (certainly in the second half). As it turns out, Heupel and his staff will have to figure out how to deal with those two talented players again next fall.
Milroe said on Thursday that he’s coming back for the 2024 season. Mertz stated not long after the Gators’ season ended that he’s coming back for a final year in Gainesville. As such - barring injury, of course - the Vols know who they will be going up against when each team comes into Neyland Stadium in mid-October.
This news in early September might have seemed like good news for Tennessee fans. Milroe was benched in September after a rough start, earning the starting job back after the Tide’s underwhelming 17-3 win at South Florida. He’s been mostly very good ever since. Mertz, underwhelming at Wisconsin, didn’t seem like a major threat when it was announced he was transferring to Florida.
As it turns out, Mertz was somewhat of a pleasant surprise for the Gators despite the team’s overall 5-7 record. He quietly had a nice season statistically, finishing with a 72.9% completion percentage with 2903 passing yards and 20 TDs to just 3 interceptions in 11 games.
Milroe and Alabama are obviously much more of a concern and challenge than Mertz and Florida, but Tennessee is clearly more than capable of losing to either team at home next fall. Fortunately, Heupel and the Vols will have had a full year to learn from where they failed against both players and figure out how to do better this time.