A column, in three acts.
Florida vs. Tennessee
ACT 1 — What is a Great Game?
We all know what happened last year when Feleipe Franks connected on a last-second touchdown with Tyrie Cleveland.
But was it a great game?
You had a great feeling walking out of the stadium if you were a Gator fan. But it was hardly a great game.
It was a great ending. Not a great game.
Two years ago was a much better game. Antonio Callaway’s catch and run came with plenty of time left for Tennessee to get a field goal try. The drama of the first kick missing and Florida calling timeout right before the snap because it had 12 men on the field just added to the tension.
There was so much more substance to that game. And to be a really great game you need a great atmosphere, a great finish, some back-and-forth scoring, excellent coaching on both sides and butterflies hatching in your stomach the whole day.
Like, 1996 wasn’t a great game. Florida was up 35-0 in what felt like 10 minutes. The crowd left at halftime. And the 1998 game wasn’t a great game, because Florida kept coughing the ball up and Tennessee won without a lot of offense.
It was field-storming great for Tennessee, which had lost five straight to UF.
That 1998 team will be honored at the game tonight and it should be for winning a national title. But that wasn’t a great game.
The top 5:
1. 1991 — You can still hear Larry Kennedy’s interception return.
2. 1999 — Defending national champs, meet Alex Brown.
3. 2001 — With what was on the line and the backstory of when it was played and how it went down, man, what a game.
4. 1993 — Florida gave Danny Wuerffel his first start. Nobody in either secondary had a chance.
5. 2004 — The game that eventually sent Ron Zook packing was a doozy. Feel free to disagree.
ACT 2 — The War of Attrition
I’ve written, and others have as well, about why Florida and Tennessee are in this place. They play today with some arguing they are the worst two teams in the SEC, which may be stretching it but not that much.
Of course, the winner will come out of this game proclaiming itself in the middle of the race for Atlanta. But we know better. Just next week, Tennessee goes to Georgia and Florida to Mississippi State.
Heck, both teams may be looking ahead.
But I digress.
If you want to look at reasons why both teams have new coaches and new outlooks, but the same subpar rosters, go back to the 2015 recruiting classes for both teams.
These are the guys who should be — with some JUCO exceptions — seniors or fourth-year juniors, the backbone of any college team.
Tennessee signed 30 players that year and had the No. 4 class. There are 11 players still with the Vols and some of them are still underachieving. Only a handful are starting tonight.
Two of them — UF’s Tommy Townsend and Colorado State’s Preston Williams — were on display in The Swamp last week.
Florida’s class that year, Jim McElwain’s first, was smaller with 21 players. There are 11 of them still around, but that class was the core of last year’s credit card scandal that derailed the season.
There are big names like Cece Jefferson (suspended for the first two games this year), Martez Ivey (who has yet to have a big season) and Jordan Scarlett (suspended all of last season).
But the lack of productivity of that class is one reason Florida is trying to climb out of a hole.
There’s attrition everywhere. But for these two schools, it has been a ruiner of rosters. They are a big part of the reason why you want things to move fast, but it feels like progress is about as fast as the last 10 cents at the pump on a $20 gas purchase.
Intermission — Music by Kenny G.
ACT 3 — The Rivalry Games
Florida must be really good at hating opponents and getting opponents to hate them. Because when the Gators add Miami next season, you could make the argument Florida will have five rivalry games on the schedule.
(I consider LSU to be a rivalry game. We can discuss it over IPAs one day).
The question tonight is where the Tennessee game ranks as a rivalry game. One day, I asked Tim Tebow about it. And he said it probably depends on when you were born.
I say it depends on where you are right now.
If this was 1988, your rivalry list would look like this:
In 1998, it looked like this:
And next year, Miami can slide in the middle.
The point is that rivalries change at a place like Florida. The Gators are good at creating them. And your list is probably different than mine for every decade.
Thank you for coming. Drive home safely.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.