The Tennessee Volunteers will welcome their hated SEC East rivals, the Florida Gators, to Knoxville on Saturday and hope to renew a rivalry that was among the best in the division years ago but is now in reboot mode with two first-year head coaches. Let’s check out this matchup and the accompanying odds.
Bragging Rights, Not Rankings, On The Line
When Tennessee and Florida played each other every year between 1990-2007, both teams were ranked in the AP Top 25 in each and every meeting. Those were the glory years of this rivalry, but both teams are currently in a rebuilding phase with first-year coaches at their respective helms. Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt was named head coach of the Vols in the offseason which turned the page on the Butch Jones era.
Pruitt has led his charges to a 2-1 mark thus far, but the sting of a lopsided loss to West Virginia in the season opener is still fresh. The Volunteers dispatched lesser-lights East Tennessee State and UTEP, and their 24-0 blanking of the latter showed off an impressive defense, but the offense failed to generate enough points to cover the 33½-point impost that some of the best online sportsbooks were dealing. Speaking of online sportsbooks, if you’re interested in checking out the lines on all the college and pro games this weekend from the top sportsbooks in the industry, then see them all in one place at Sportsbook Review.
The Gators have also gone back to the drawing board this year by bringing in a fresh set of eyes in former Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen to diagnose what ails a Gators team that was tops in the SEC East two seasons running under head coach Jim McElwain until last year. However, as the relationship between McElwain and the Florida administration collapsed, so too did the football program that ended the 2017 season 4-7 with interim head coach Randy Shannon trying desperately to keep the sinking ship afloat. Mullen is now in the director’s chair, and like the Vols his team is 2-1 with an ugly loss of their own to Kentucky (ending a 31-game winning streak in series) sandwiched between victories over Charleston Southern and last week against Colorado State.
Last season, the game between these rivals saw the Gators claim a 26-20 victory in the Swamp when a 63-yard Hail Mary pass from Feleipe Franks to Tyrie Cleveland capped a sloppy but stunning victory for Florida. It was all too much to bear for Tennessee fans, but the only saving grace was that time had expired and the extra point wasn’t needed, which gave all of those putting their money on the Vols a Hail Mary of their own as they covered the number as 7-point road dogs.
The venue shifts back to Knoxville on Saturday, and the Vols wouldn’t mind a repeat of the 38-28 win the last time they met the Gators at home two years ago. This sets up as a solid matchup, and although Florida has a more prolific passing game we can’t help but believe that Tennessee’s ground-and-pound will chew the clock and soften up that Gators’ defense. Both teams are tied for 18th in the nation in points allowed, surrendering an average of 14.3 points per game, but both defenses have also had the benefit of a few cupcakes on their schedule in the early going. Tennessee is setting up as a live dog here as we take a peek over to Sportsbook Review where the best online sportsbooks are offering the visiting Gators as roughly 4½-point favorites.
Vols quarterback Jarrett Guarantano is connecting on over 72 percent of his passes and developing chemistry with receiver junior wideout Marquez Callaway, who has 12 catches for 149 yards. Factor in a deep backfield, led by sophomore Tim Jordan, and there are the makings of a Tennessee upset on Saturday night.