Knoxville is the place to be on Saturday.
College GameDay will be present for the first time since 2016. The hype around this game is unreal and may be the hottest ticket in quite some time for Tennessee fans as the No. 11 Volunteers host Florida in a top-25 matchup.
Tennessee will also be “Checkering Neyland” on Saturday against the 20th-ranked Gators. This might just be one of the best atmospheres Neyland Stadium has ever seen.
The Tennessee-Florida rivalry is just plain nasty. The Gators and the Volunteers used to be the game of the year in the SEC. The winner of this game usually went on to win the SEC. From 1993 to 1998, the teams combined to win the conference every year.
The rivalry has lost a little of its luster in recent years, but these two teams still hate each other. Florida has won 16 of the last 17 meetings. Tennessee last won in 2016 when the Vols came back from 21 down and beat the Gators, 38-28.
Even though the Gators have dominated the series as of late, many believe Tennessee should beat the Gators handily on Saturday. The Vols are currently 10.5-point favorites — the most they’ve ever been favored by against Florida.
Given the doubt surrounding Florida, expect the Gators to play the best game they have all season on Saturday. Florida tends to play well against Tennessee, which can be seen in the recent domination.
With that said, this Tennessee team is a lot different from those of the recent past. Given the expectations and the atmosphere, head coach Josh Heupel should have Tennessee to ready to play.
QBs Trending in Different Directions
The biggest storyline of this game is the quarterback battle. Florida’s Anthony Richardson put the country on notice after his Week 1 performance against Utah, but ever since, Richardson has been average at best. Richardson has yet to throw a touchdown pass this season as we enter Week 4. Richardson has incredible potential but the question is whether he can live up to the hype.
He is an elite runner, but Richardson may have to throw the ball efficiently if the Gators want to upset the Vols on Saturday. Florida’s first three games have been at home. It will be interesting to see how Richardson handles the raucous crowd.
On the other side, Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker has been phenomenal through three weeks. Hooker has thrown for 844 yards and six touchdowns. He’s added 63 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.
Hooker has yet to throw an interception in 2022. The Vols’ biggest problem when playing the Gators in the past has been miscues. For the Knoxville faithful, it will be happy to have Hooker behind center in a game of this magnitude.
Unfortunately, both teams have some key players who are questionable or out for this game.
The Gators will be without quarterback Jack Miller III, tight end Arlis Boardingham, and tackles Michael Tarquin and David Conner. The biggest void for Florida would be starting middle linebacker Ventrell Miller.
Miller didn’t play a week ago and is questionable for Saturday. This would be a major loss for the Gators defensively. Miller is the leader of the defense and one of the Gators’ top defensive players. If Miller can’t go, true freshman Shemar James is expected to start in his place.
Tennessee had multiple key players injured in last week’s blowout of Akron. Tennessee’s running backs room is already pretty thin. Jabari Small left last week’s game in the first quarter and never returned. Dylan Sampson was injured in the fourth quarter.
Starting wide receiver Cedric Tillman was injured a couple different times last week and is doubtful for Saturday. Tillman might be the best wide receiver in the SEC and is one of the best in the country. This would be a huge loss for the Vols.
For many reasons, this game is very meaningful for both sides. Florida has owned the series as of late, but this will be the year that the Volunteers prove to the country that they’re a legitimate SEC contender.
“This is a breakthrough moment for Tennessee,” host Reece Davis said on a recent ESPN podcast.
If Tennessee is to become an SEC power once again, beating Florida is a hump it will need to get over. To pick up a second win over a ranked team and beat the Gators for just the second time in 18 years would send a huge message.
Saturday’s contest begins at 3:30 p.m. ET. It will air nationally on CBS.
Featured image courtesy of Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee athletics
Prediction: Tennessee 31, Florida 20