Gators may hold key for UT

Tennessee football fans find themselves in an unusual position these days ... pulling for the hated Florida Gators.

After road upsets at LSU and Arkansas the past two weekends, the Gators could create a three-way tie for the SEC East title between themselves, Tennessee and Georgia if they win their three remaining league games -- Nov. 1 vs. Georgia (Jacksonville), Nov. 8 vs. Vanderbilt (Gainesville) and Nov. 15 vs. South Carolina (Columbia).

Beating Vanderbilt, of course, is almost a given. The Commodores have lost 21 consecutive SEC games and stand 5-63 in league play since the start of the 1995 season. Winning at Jacksonville and Columbia is possible, too. The Gators beat Georgia in Jacksonville last season, handing the Dawgs their only loss. And Columbia isn't exactly the toughest place for a visitor to win this fall, as suggested by LSU's 33-7 romp there over the weekend.

Georgia stands 4-1 in league play, while Florida is 3-2 and Tennessee 2-2. Thus, a three-way tie for the top spot is well within the realm of possibility. If Georgia loses to Florida, then beats Auburn (Nov. 15 in Athens) and Kentucky (Nov. 22 in Athens), the Dawgs will finish 6-2. If Florida wins the three SEC games mentioned above, it will finish 6-2. If Tennessee beats Alabama (this weekend in Tuscaloosa), Mississippi State (Nov. 15 in Knoxville), Vanderbilt (Nov. 22 in Knoxville) and Kentucky (Nov. 29 in Lexington), the Vols also would finish 6-2.

Should all three schools finish 6-2, the league's convoluted tie-breaker system would determine which school plays in the SEC Championship game. Since UT owns a win over Florida and Florida would own a win over Georgia, the first tiebreaker (head-to-head play) would not resolve the deadlock. That would force other tie-breaker measures into play, which basically means anything can happen.

Thus, Tennessee fans should be pulling for Florida to win out ... appalling as that may seem.

Another scenario: If Georgia loses to BOTH Florida and Auburn (which is playing very well right now), Tennessee could finish tied with the Gators for the SEC East title. The Vols would then earn the East's berth in the league championship game by virtue of having beaten Florida head-to-head last month.

Of course, if Tennessee loses this Saturday at Alabama, all of this conjecture is moot.


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