COLLEGE FOOTBALL WEEK 3

Florida Gators’ mastery of Vols might end Saturday

 

jgoodman@MiamiHerald.com

In years past, the urinal doughnuts in the Gators’ football facility were decorated in Volunteer orange for this week of the season.

Man, doesn’t that just smell like a proper college football rivalry.

Former UF coach Urban Meyer placed so much importance on humiliating Tennessee, that the year former Vols coach Lane Kiffin briefly threatened to upset the Gators in Gainesville, Meyer treated the hard-fought game like a loss. Meyer never lost to Kiffin, but somehow Kiffin always seemed to get the last laugh.

Although the hatred between the two schools has thawed in recent years, the outcomes of the games have remained the same. Meyer never lost to Tennessee, and current UF coach Will Muschamp is undefeated against the Volunteers, as well. That streak (seven seasons in the making) is expected to end Saturday.

Led by a potent offense, Tennessee is favored by a field goal at home. For perspective, the Volunteers haven’t defeated the Gators since former Dolphins first-round draft pick Jason Allen played for Tennessee. For more perspective, the last time Florida lost to Tennessee, the Gators’ coach lost his job during the middle of the season.

Ron Zook lost to Tennessee 30-28 in 2004. A few weeks later, the Zooker was fired after losing to Mississippi State.

Is a head coach in danger of losing his job based on the outcome of Saturday’s game in Knoxville, Tenn? The answer is yes … for both teams.

Start with Tennessee.

Coach Derek Dooley began the season on the hot seat and, despite a couple of early season victories, his throne hasn’t gotten any cooler. Wins against N.C. State and Georgia State meant little to Tennessee fans and boosters. In their eyes, Dooley’s job security is tied to Saturday’s final score.

Over the past two seasons, the Volunteers are 4-12 in conference play with victories against only the league’s bottom-feeders: Ole Miss, Kentucky and Vanderbilt. Last year, pride reached an all-time low on Rocky Top with an embarrassing 10-7 loss to Kentucky.

Enthusiasm is building behind Volunteers quarterback Tyler Bray, who has thrown six touchdown passes in two games to go along with 45 completions. He’s considered the best passer in the SEC East, a division that’s up for grabs. Behind this backdrop, another loss to the Gators — as vulnerable now as they will ever be — would be the beginning of the end for Dooley.

A win against Tennessee isn’t quite as important for Muschamp but a loss would wipe away any lasting sheen from his golden-boy varnish. Meyer might have left the Gators’ program with a few disciplinary problems, but the cupboard certainly wasn’t bare.

Muschamp’s signature win supposedly came last week against Texas A&M. In reality, that was no signature win at all. The Aggies are no better than the fifth-best team in the SEC West, feature a freshman quarterback and have a first-year coach and new coordinators.

UF’s offense is still a work in progress, but the Gators’ defense should be enough to limit Bray.

At the heart of the game’s biggest matchup — Florida’s secondary vs. Tennessee’s receivers — will be former Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas standout Marcus Roberson. The Gators’ top cornerback, Roberson will be lined up against either Justin Hunter or Cordarrelle Patterson throughout the game. The Tennessee receivers give the Volunteers one of the best downfield attacks in the country.

•  Heisman watch: Matt Barkley, quarterback, USC (10 touchdowns, one interception in two games); Jarvis Jones, linebacker, Georgia (interception, forced fumble vs. Missouri); Barrett Jones, center, Alabama (379.5 yards of total offense per game); De’Anthony Thomas, running back, Oregon (16.6 yards per carry in two games).

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