HomeFootballTennessee FootballOpinion | Tennessee is a double-digit favorite, but battered Vols aren't buying...

Opinion | Tennessee is a double-digit favorite, but battered Vols aren’t buying it

On Tennessee fan site Vol Nation, someone has posed the question: “What happens Saturday after the win? Especially if it ends up being close? To storm or not to storm?”

“To storm or not to storm” is a reference to fans (students, mostly) storming the field after the final horn has sounded.

Over-confident much?

On one hand, it’s hard to blame Tennessee fans for being a little cocky. In just his second year on the job, Josh Heupel has the Vols ranked No. 11 in the country, and trending upward. Tennessee played about as poorly as could be imagined at Pitt two weeks ago, and still beat a ranked team on the road. Florida, on the other hand, barely managed to escape with a win over South Florida in The Swamp on Saturday, and highly-touted quarterback Anthony Richardson has zero touchdowns to go with four interceptions through three games.

ESPN’s computer rankings give the Vols an 88% chance of winning Saturday’s game, which kicks off at 3:30 pm on CBS. That might be the best chance ESPN’s computers have ever given Tennessee of beating its old nemesis from the Sunshine State. Vegas is pretty confident, too. The Vols are 11-point favorites to win the game.

But, still. 

I’ll be the first to admit that I suffer from BVS. That’s fan-speak for Battered Vol Syndrome. You know, like Battered Wife Syndrome. Who knows where the term originated, but it was likely on the same Vol Nation forum where fans are giddily predicting a blowout win over Florida. I’m 43, and Tennessee has let me down far more often than not — especially when facing off against Florida in late September, and even before the program lost its footing nearly two decades ago. 

Many Tennessee fans look at Saturday’s game against the Gators and see plenty of reasons why the Vols will win in a rout. And why shouldn’t they? It’s not just that Hendon Hooker is a decidedly better quarterback than Anthony Richardson, or that South Florida rushed for nearly 300 yards on the Gators, or that Florida’s offense looked like a high school unit against Kentucky. It isn’t just that Tennessee has offensive playmakers all over the field, or that the Vols are suddenly getting pressure on the quarterback, or that Josh Heupel is a much better coach than Billy Napier. 

But this BVS-inflicted fan knows better. He’s been around long enough to remember a few things.

Like 1995, when Tennessee led by 16 points before Florida scored 48 straight for a 62-37 win over the Vols, and Ike Hilliard set a school record for most touchdown receptions against an SEC opponent. 

Or 1996, the so-called Game of the Century at Neyland Stadium, when a Tennessee team that was ranked No. 2 in the country and had national championship aspirations behind junior quarterback Peyton Manning found itself down 35-0 before the game had hardly gotten started.

Or 1999, when the defending national champion was again ranked No. 2 in the country but suddenly forgot how to score against the Gators.

Or 2002, when a Tennessee team ranked fourth in the nation was completely dominated as Casey Clausen fumbled approximately 85 times in a downpour at Neyland Stadium.

Or 2005, when Florida limited No. 5 Tennessee to a single touchdown and defeated the Vols in an upset that marked the beginning of the end for Phillip Fulmer.

Or 2007, when Eric Berry returned a Tim Tebow interception 90-plus yards for a touchdown, only to see Florida reel off 31 unanswered points in a 59-20 win on a sweltering day in The Swamp.

Or 2012, when College Gameday came to Knoxville and the Vols were ranked for the first time in five years, only to see Florida score 24 unanswered points in the second half and bounce Tennessee from the Top 25 nearly as quickly as Derek Dooley’s Vols had entered it. 

Or 2014, when a positively dreadful Florida team came to Knoxville on a crisp early October afternoon for the very first #CheckerNeyland and Tennessee’s offense never crossed the goal line.

Or 2015, when Tennessee went to The Swamp and Butch Jones forgot to go for two, and then the Vols drew up the dumbest defensive play call in the history of defensive play calls on 4th and forever, allowing the Gators to score a miracle win.

Or 2017, when the Vols went back to The Swamp and were favored to win, and Florida again won on a miracle — this time a hail mary on the final play of the game.

You get the point.

Since the SEC split into East and West divisions in 1992, Tennessee has beaten Florida just six times in 30 tries. 

If that makes you slightly nauseated, try being old enough to remember every blasted one of the 24 losses. I can remember them without even looking them up — the 21-0 start in ’93, being shut out at home in ’94, the complete onslaught in The Swamp in ’95, the 35-0 start in ’96, the wrecking of Peyton Manning’s Heisman Trophy campaign in ’97, Tee Martin’s 16 of 39 passing performance in 1999, the catch that wasn’t a catch in ’00, all of Casey Clausen’s fumbles in ’02, and on and on. 

Since Tennessee won four games in seven tries against the Gators to mark the end of the Steve Spurrier era and the doomed-from-the-start Ron Zook era, the Vols have beaten Florida exactly ONCE in 17 tries. 

And while Tennessee football has been upside down since 2008, Florida football hasn’t exactly set the world on fire since Corch Irvin Meyers did his best Fred Sanford impression and left the Gatas in 2010. More often than not in the past 17 years, Tennessee has had the better team and should have won the game. But the only time the Vols actually did win was in 2016, and that took an impressive second half comeback after a disastrous first half. 

So for every reason you give me why the Vols should win on Saturday, I’ll give you two why they won’t. And I’ll even throw in a bonus reason for free: How many times has Tennessee made a struggling Florida QB (or a backup Florida QB) look like a world-beater? Richardson has looked like the SEC’s worst quarterback the last two weeks, which is why I fully expect him to rush for 200 yards and throw for 300 more against the Vols. 

Do I think Tennessee has a better coach? Yes.

Do I think Tennessee has a better quarterback? Yes.

Do I think Tennessee has a better team? Yes.

Do I think Tennessee should win? Yes, by at least two scores. 

Do I think Tennessee will win? Let’s put it like this: I won’t think the Vols win this game until the scoreboard shows 0:00 with Tennessee having more points than Florida. And even then I’ll pinch myself to be sure I’m not dreaming. 

— Signed, A Battered Vol.

Ben Garrett
Ben Garrett
Ben Garrett is Independent Herald editor and publisher. Follow him on Twitter, @benwgarrett, or email him at bgarrett at ihoneida dot com.
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