From 1993-2001 the defining moment in the SEC season was always the Florida-Tennessee game, usually the third or fourth week of the season in September. Whoever won that game went on to win the SEC East and then turned whoever won the West into a sacrificial lamb. There haven’t been very many defining moments in the series since then. The Gators had that 65-15 run that included two national championships from 2005-10 but it’s been 1998 since the Vols won an SEC championship and the only winning season they’ve had since 2007 was turned in by Lane Kiffin in 2009.
Neither Tennessee nor Florida is on anyone’s championship radar this year even though it’s still early enough in the season that both teams still have time to rally the troops and pull off what would seem like a miracle of changing water into wine proportions. The lack of championship implications would make this just another game in any other year, but not this one.
Call this a defining moment for both teams.
Public perception, for the most part, is that Tennessee and Florida are two football programs heading in opposite directions. The Vols are perceived as the young team on the rise under second year head coach Butch Jones. They’re playing 46 true freshmen, redshirt freshmen or sophomores and they’ve beaten two bowl teams from last year, given Oklahoma everything it could handle in Norman a couple of weeks ago and just Saturday made Georgia sweat bullets.
Then there are the Gators. Four games into year four of the Will Muschamp era they are perceived as a team struggling to keep its head above the water and teetering on the verge of a second straight losing season. After the 42-21 beating at the hands of Alabama, the perception is the Gators have serious issues at quarterback and a defense that isn’t nearly as good as it was hyped preseason. As for Muschamp, the perception is that he is running out of rope in what could be the worst four-year aggregate at UF since 1980.
Win or lose Saturday, Butch Jones will be perceived as the man who will restore the Tennessee program to prominence. Win or lose Saturday and Will Muschamp will be perceived as a coach who simply bought another week on the job. Even though athletic director Jeremy Foley says there will be no coaching change made during the season that won’t change the speculation in the national media that the next loss will be Foley’s tipping point.
For Tennessee, Saturday’s game is an opportunity to put 10 years of frustration in the rearview. Vol faithful truly believe that once they get over the hump that is the Gators it will be a matter of a very short time before they are in the thick of the championship hunt every single year. As Tennessee fans view this game, a win will define the moment the comeback to prominence began.
This will be viewed as a defining moment for Florida and Muschamp, also. Should the Gators win and go on to finish the season strong, then the win over Tennessee will be remembered as the moment that Muschamp got the ship righted and headed in the right direction. Whether it’s a win or a loss, if the season goes in the tank after Knoxville, then it will be defined as the moment everything began to unravel.
Butch Jones needs this win as badly as Will Muschamp, but perceptions and expectations are different. He needs to win because he’s got a young team that seems ready to believe in itself and become a winner. Still, Tennessee fans will forgive him if he loses to the Gators because they believe the future is secure in his hands. If Muschamp loses the only way he’ll find forgiveness from the Gator Nation is to win nearly every game the rest of the way.
This is only one game, but it will go a long way toward defining what’s next for two football programs.
1. ALABAMA (4-0, 1-0 SEC): Alabama is averaging 587.5 yards and 42 points per game and is still working out the kinks in its offense. The defense can’t generate a pass rush yet it’s holding opponents to 250.3 yards per game.
2. Auburn (4-0, 1-0 SEC): Auburn will learn how good it is Saturday when LSU comes to town sporting a new quarterback. Another slow start on offense could be disastrous but so could failure to contain that LSU offense with all those young studs.
3. Texas A&M (5-0, 2-0 SEC): Was that an overconfident bunch of Aggies who simply flipped the switch when they had to so they could escape with an overtime win over Arkansas? They better have their helmets strapped on when they go to Starkville Saturday.
4. Ole Miss (4-0, 1-0 SEC): The Rebels are the fourth-rated defense in the country (240 yards per game) and they only allow 8.5 points (third in the nation). Now if the offense can stop turning the ball over, Hugh Freeze might have something going.
5. Mississippi State (4-0, 1-0 SEC): Even though they beat LSU in Tiger Stadium, the Bulldogs still don’t get any respect. That will change if they knock off the Aggies Saturday.
6. LSU (4-1, 0-1 SEC): Les Miles gave Anthony Jennings one last chance. Now Brandon Harris takes over and the LSU offense suddenly looks scary. The Tigers can rejoin the championship talk if they can beat Auburn on the road Saturday.
7. ARKANSAS (3-2, 0-2 SEC): The Razorbacks might not beat a single team from the SEC West but is there an SEC East team that could stop their running game?
8. GEORGIA (3-1, 1-1 SEC): The Bulldogs are good enough to win the SEC East. As long as Hutson Mason is the quarterback, they are also good enough to lose to all seven teams in the SEC West.
10. SOUTH CAROLINA (3-2, 2-2 SEC): Until the Gamecocks play defense for a full 60 minutes like they did the first 52:35 against Missouri, it’s going to be a roller coaster ride.
11. TENNESSEE (2-2, 0-1 SEC): Tennessee has come up with two respectable losses on the road to ranked teams the last two times out (Oklahoma and Georgia). Now they need to find out if they can get a respectable win at home against Florida.
12: FLORIDA (3-1, 1-1 SEC): The Gators could still be very good this year but if they’re going to be good it has to start Saturday afternoon in Knoxville.
13. Kentucky (3-1, 1-1 SEC): After watching South Carolina’s defense fold in the final 7:25 Saturday night against Missouri, Kentucky has to feel it’s at least got a shot at knocking off the Gamecocks Saturday night in Lexington.
14. Vanderbilt (1-4, 0-3 SEC): The Commodores are bad. Really, really bad. It will get worse Saturday when they travel to Athens to face Georgia.
Once again, Florida State’s number of first place votes shrunk. Back on week two it was 49. It was down to 34 last week and only 27 this week. If Oregon and Alabama both win their games against unbeaten teams this week, the Seminoles’ first place margin will either be microscopic or non-existent this time next week.
(1) Florida State; (2) Oregon; (3) Alabama; (4) Oklahoma; (5) Auburn; (6) Texas A&M; (7) Baylor; (8) UCLA; (9) Notre Dame; (10) Michigan State; (11) Ole Miss; (12) Mississippi State; (13) Georgia; (14) Stanford; (15) LSU; (16) USC; (17) Wisconsin; (18) BYU; (19) Nebraska; (20) Ohio State; (21) Oklahoma State; (22) East Carolina; (23) Kansas State; (24) Missouri; (25) TCU.
I don’t think Florida State is the best team in the country, but like Steve Spurrier and some other coaches I know, I go with the theory that the king is the king until someone knocks the king off his perch. So, if I had a vote, Florida State would be the shakiest #1 ever simply because they won the national title last year and haven’t been beaten this year. Their defense is atrocious but the schedule the rest of the way is so weak that the Seminoles won’t get exposed at a critical moment.
(1) Florida State; (2) Alabama; (3) Auburn; (4) Oklahoma; (5) Oregon; (6) Texas A&M; (7) Baylor; (8) Notre Dame; (9) Ole Miss; (10) Stanford; (11) Mississippi State; (12) LSU; (13) UCLA; (14) Georgia; (15) Michigan State; (16) Oklahoma State; (17) Kansas State; (18) BYU; (19) East Carolina; (20) USC; (21) Nebraska; (22) Ohio State; (24) TCU; (25) Missouri.
There is a new weak link in the Power Five (Plus Notre Dame). The ACC is holding up the rear thanks to Pitt, which lost to Little Terry Bowden and the Akron Zips Saturday. Now that the out of conference games are essentially done for the league, it’s going to be very difficult for the ACC to dig its way out of this hole. The Big Ten, which formerly held up the bottom, moved up a notch thanks to going 4-0 out of conference.1. SEC
2. Big 12
4. Notre Dame
5. Big Ten
It’s not even October yet and Countdown to Firing Day is already picking up momentum. We have two on the Extinct Species List now that Kansas has axed Charlie Weis, who joins June Jones (SMU) who “resigned” a couple of weeks ago. Firing Charlie comes with a price. His five-year, $10 million deal was completely guaranteed so Kansas will have to pony up more than $5 million. Charlie is still being paid by Notre Dame, which will complete the remainder of the more than $19 million it paid Charlie not to coach on or before December 31, 2015.
Charlie Weis was a bad hire from the beginning for Kansas. He is not the kind of coach who is going to build a program from the ground up and what Turner Gill left was ground zero. Kansas should have hired a guy like Mike Leach, who wins without four and five star recruits because the only four and five star talent you’re going to lure to Lawrence plays basketball.
Following Michigan’s 30-14 loss to Minnesota, dropping the Wolverines to 2-3 on the season, embattled coach Brady Hoke said:
“I think this team can still win the championship. I really do.”
To win the Big Ten championship, Michigan would have to beat both Michigan State and Ohio State, plus would have to probably beat Nebraska in the Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis. As improbable as that might seem it is still within the real of possibility, however distant that might be. It will take that for Brady Hoke to be coaching Michigan next year, but next year is a light at the end of a very distant tunnel. Hoke needs to be more concerned with that fast approaching light that is the 18-wheeler that wishes to flatten his Michigan coaching career. Impact could be any day now.
Having watched Tennessee give Georgia all it could handle, are you more or less confident about the Gators’ chances in Knoxville Saturday?
Fourplay was the inspiration of keyboard genius Bob James. The band debuted in 1991 and has turned out 13 albums since then. James, bassist Nathan East and drummer Harvey Mason have been together since the band’s inception. The first guitarist was Lee Ritenour, but he left in 1998 and was replaced by Larry Carlton. When Carlton left in 2010 Chuck Loeb stepped in. Today’s song is “Bali Run,” the lead track on their 1991 debut album “Fourplay” that held the #1 spot on the Billboard jazz charts for a record 33 consecutive weeks.