Is there any game in the country that has had more weather-related issues than the annual match up between the Gators and Vols? Once again all indications are "Ivan" will settle in the Smokies and make for potentially miserable conditions for the Gators' game Saturday.
I guess it's a plus for Florida, since the weather was miserable up there two years ago, and the Gators took advantage with a flurry of scoring late in the second quarter to take control of the game.
I still remember the 1996 game up there, perhaps the most hyped of all the recent Florida/Tennessee games, it was absolutely pouring. I was working the sidelines for Sunshine and Michelle Tafoya was the sideline reporter for CBS. Well I'm out there in a poncho and baseball camp getting drenched waiting to do my first report for the open of the telecast.
Then I see Michelle, decked out to the nines walking toward the end zone, with a "valet" holding an umbrella over her head. Said "valet" stood alongside while she did her quick report… and then escorted her back to the production truck where she waited out the storm.
And that's how the other half lives.
WHO DOES BAD WEATHER HELP MOST?
This is a toughie because Florida has the more experienced quarterback and has had tons of practice in bad weather this fall. Ron Zook has kept practicing in rain (but not lightning) so much, playing in good weather would be more of an adjustment for these guys. Still, I think Tennessee benefits more.
The Vols are a committed power running football team and the worse the weather, the more it favors that method of moving the football. Tennessee also has a history of pounding the ball against the Gators for as long as it takes. Last year, the Vols best drive was an 11-play, 76 yarder that took over five minutes and all but clinched the game.
The Gators have a solid running game, and Ciatrick Fason is the best back in the game, but I believe Florida has to win this game in the air. Keep in mind the Gators run defense has much to prove, after giving up an average of 182 yards per game the last six games of 2003.
WHAT THE GATORS MUST DO TO WIN
I think the single most important thing Florida must do Saturday is play from in front. Nothing will put more pressure on Tennessee's rookie quarterbacks than having them look up at the scoreboard and see a deficit all or most of the night. It will also give Florida the comfort zone to be aggressive on defense and stack the line more frequently.
Tennessee most likely cannot win this game in the air, so if the Gators can just break even with the Vols in the running game, that would be a huge plus as well. I believe both teams are susceptible to misdirection plays, so which team can exploit that on offense and maintain discipline on defense will probably win the ground battle in Rocky Top.
The Vols special teams are very good and Dustin Colquitt may be the best punter in the nation. This game will challenge UF to prove it is ready to eliminate special teams' gaffes and make those units a force in big games.
It'll be interesting to see if the home field disadvantage continues this weekend. The visitor has won four straight, but that is a relatively new phenomenon in this rivalry. Home teams won eight of ten in the 90's with the Gators posting the only road wins ('94, '96). This game always sets the tone for the rest of the season, and the Gators have never won the SEC in a year in which they lost to the Vols. Three times Tennessee has rebounded from a loss to Florida to win the conference ('69, '85, and '97).
One thing is undeniable. It's going to be a tough few weeks ahead for the losing coach in this one. Fair or not, that's the way it is.
My prediction? Tennessee 27-21.
SEC WEST TITLE MAY BE SETTLED
When LSU and Auburn play Saturday. The dueling Tigers are the two best teams in the West, and while that division often gets jumbled over the course of the season, I think the winner of this one is the team to beat from here on in. Alabama can't be completely ruled out because, unlike the others, they only play one of the Eastern Division's top three teams (Tennessee).
The key to this one is quarterback play. Both of these teams have excellent running backs, offensive lines, and run defenses. Jason Campbell seems like he has been at it for eight years, but he has yet to impress me. He enters the season with a rather pedestrian 25 touchdown passes. He does has 5 TD throws in two games this season, so perhaps he's ready to take over. LSU on the other hand suffered through spotty QB play in their fortunate win over Oregon State. I refuse to read much, if anything into the 53-3 pasting of Arkansas State. JaMarcus Russell has a world of talent, but this is a much bigger challenge than he has ever faced. I like Auburn, but just a little.
Elsewhere, aren't you glad you won't be in Oxford, Mississippi Saturday? The Ole Miss (0-and-2) Vandy (0-and-1) game promises to be a snoozer.
Georgia won't get caught napping by Marshall. The Thundering Herd has lost a pair of game to good teams in Troy and Ohio State. Georgia dodged one against South Carolina, and should be focused. The Gamecocks, on the other hand better get over their disappointment before South Florida arrives.
FROM THE EMAIL BAG
Bud writes: "Was Brent Schaeffer recruited by UF? If not, why not?
Yes, Florida was interested in Schaeffer but the Vols' freshman says the Gators wanted him as an athlete, not strictly a quarterback. That makes sense when you consider the Gators played a freshman in 2003 and had two backups on campus and another very athletic QB type on the way in Cornelius Ingram. Schaeffer went where the QB opportunity was a vastly superior one to the situation in Gainesville, and that makes perfect sense to me.
Keep those emails coming!
Don't forget to email me your questions and comments, but please do not include attachments! Many emails this week had them and had to be left unopened. My email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org .
Finally, I look forward to you joining me on the radio, Sunday nights from 6:00-to-8:00 on Gainesville's WSKY-FM 97.3 (877/975-9825 toll free)