Why Tennessee football vs. Florida evokes a wide range of emotions for Vols fans

Blake Toppmeyer Adam Sparks John Adams
Knoxville News Sentinel

Tennessee's got this – on paper, anyway.

The 12th-ranked Vols (3-0) profile as the better team in Saturday's rivalry game (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS) against No. 22 Florida (2-1).

The Gators opened the season in impressive fashion, beating Utah, but they headed in reverse after that. Quarterback Anthony Richardson has thrown four interceptions in the past two games, while Tennessee's veteran leader Hendon Hooker has yet to throw a pick this year.

Compare depth charts and production through three weeks and add in a sold-out crowd at Neyland Stadium, and it's understandable why the Vols opened as a 10-point favorite.

To be sure, we've heard from UT fans feeling mighty confident about this game. Yet, others are feeling nauseous, unable to forget the series history. Florida has won 16 of the past 17 in this series. Oh, and ESPN's "College GameDay" is in town and the Vols will checker Neyland. Neither of those happenings has been a good omen for UT, historically.

On this edition of "The Volunteer State," Blake Toppmeyer of the USA TODAY Network and the News Sentinel's Adam Sparks and John Adams explain why no amount of history or jinxes should get in Tennessee's way.

Adams isn't just predicting victory. He senses a rout.

Sparks' key for the game: Keep Richardson in the pocket. Don't let him beat you with his legs.

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Tennessee fans certainly shouldn't lack for motivation to be loud after Billy Napier downplayed what Richardson will encounter in his first career road start.

“It’s not like we’re going to Canada and they’re going to change the rules,” Napier said Monday. “It’s going to be the same game. It’s just going to be a little louder and played at a different location.”

While Napier's quote made the rounds on Twitter and became bulletin-board material for some Vols fans, Toppmeyer questions what Napier was supposed to say. Should he have predicted that Richardson would wilt in the din? Napier's business-as-usual, control-what-you-can-control mentality is common coaching practice.

Anyway, Adams doesn't think Vols fans should need any extra motivation. It's not often Tennessee has this good of an opportunity to strike back at its nemesis.

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Blake Toppmeyer is an SEC Columnist for the USA TODAY Network. Adam Sparks is the Tennessee football beat writer for the Knoxville News Sentinel. John Adams is the News Sentinel's senior columnist. If you enjoy their coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it. Also, you can subscribe to The Volunteer State podcast for free so you won't miss an episode. Toppmeyer and Adams also host another weekly podcast, SEC Football Unfiltered. Or, check out their SEC Unfiltered newsletter.