COLUMN: Tennessee-Florida, why both teams need to win

Staff reporter Dusty Bryan outlines his take on the historic rivalry

The Tennessee-Florida rivalry remains circled on fans’ calendars every year. In years past, this game created major SEC

implications, as the winner of this matchup historically represented the SEC East in the SEC championship game in Atlanta. The game Saturday

will not be the annual clash of top-ranked teams like those of the 1990s or early 2000s.

Not even close.

Both teams enter Saturday’s matchup unranked. Needless to say, this game isn’t likely to determine who represents the East in Atlanta. Even though this rivalry lost its luster in recent years, both teams will be desperate to win Saturday. Make no mistake about that. This game has the potential to make or break both teams’

seasons. Here’s why:

Tennessee:

The pressure remains for Tennessee. The Vols come off a season tainted by several negative milestones. Tennessee lost eight games and finished winless in SEC play for the first time in program history. The Vols ride a 9-game SEC losing streak, as the Vols haven’t won an SEC contest since November 2016 against Missouri.

A win against a rival — especially Florida who dominated Tennessee through the last decade — would be a huge morale boost for the program. A win would also help coach Jeremy Pruitt win over the fan base and potentially give him a lift on the recruiting trail.

Tennessee faces a brutal stretch after hosting Florida at home. The Vols travel to Georgia and Auburn before hosting defending national champion Alabama at home. The front end of Tennessee’s SEC schedule is undoubtedly tough. A win over top division rival Florida would give the Vols momentum heading into the upcoming SEC gauntlet.

If Tennessee loses, the Vols could realistically start SEC play 0-5 and not win another game until November. Consecutive losses would deal a devastating blow to the team’s confidence. Tennessee needs to win Saturday. A win and 1-0 start to SEC play could be a turning point and the difference between a winning season and a losing season. Expect Tennessee to play with desperation and drive. The Vols need this one. Badly.

Florida:

Like Tennessee, the Florida Gators look to erase a bad season in which they only won four games. The Gators also have a new head coach in Dan Mullen. Florida feels pressure to win Saturday because it opened SEC with a double-digit home loss to division foe Kentucky. The loss proved especially embarrassing for Florida because a 31-year winning streak against Kentucky ended.

The last thing the Gators want to do is follow that loss with a loss to Tennessee, another team they dominated lately, with only one loss since 2004. An 0-2 start to SEC play — losses to Tennessee and Kentucky — could seriously harm Dan Mullen’s reputation. For years, Florida expected to win the annual showdown with Tennessee. Expect the Gators to bring that attitude to Neyland Stadium Saturday night. It’s safe to say Dan Mullen will toss and turn tonight.

So, who needs this one more?

Both teams need a win, but the ultimate need lies with Tennessee. The Vols need to shake off a decade of mediocrity and return to national relevance. They want to start a new chapter in a storied rivalry and return to the glory of 1998 – especially with the championship team in attendance. Saturday’s game seems destined to be a tightly contested game coming down to the fourth quarter, but desperation and a deafening crowd should be enough to propel Tennessee to victory.