When the Southeastern Conference went to a divisional format in 1992, Tennessee had it pretty good for more than a decade with the exception of one trying circumstance: the Volunteers were forced to play Florida every year, and biennially in The Swamp.
It has become a Vols’ albatross, a hex that took root during Steve Spurrier’s 12 seasons (1990-2001) at Florida when he went 10-2 and became a bitter enemy for Tennessee and its iconic quarterback, Peyton Manning, who went 0-4 against the Gators.
Not only has Tennessee watched the Gators make a record 13 appearances in the SEC Championship game as the East division winner, but it has lost nine consecutive games at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium and 16 of the past 18 meetings in Gainesville dating back to 1977.
The Swamp, along with those nine straight losses to Alabama at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, has been a house of horrors for the team on Rocky Top.
That one-sided rivalry will be renewed Saturday night when Tennessee, a 7.5-point favorite thanks to its turnaround under second-year coach Josh Heupel, tries to break the stranglehold the Gators have on his program in one of the SEC’s most hostile environments.
“There wasn’t a whole lot of history to that rivalry, but going to divisions really changed the course of things when they started playing every year,” former UF receiver Chris Doering, a sixth-round draft pick of the Jaguars in 1996, told the Times-Union. “Spurrier being from Tennessee probably had something to do with it, too.
“When the SEC went to divisions, Tennessee became our top rival for a while because Georgia was down. That September game means so much to how the rest of the season goes. That stadium has always been so great when Tennessee comes to town. It ratchets up a couple notches for the Vols.”
Arguably, it was never higher than in 1995 when the Manning-led Vols jumped out to a 30-14 lead in the second quarter, only to see Florida reel off 48 consecutive points in a resounding 62-37 victory, highlighted by Ike Hilliard catching four TD passes from Danny Wuerffel.
“The ABC announcers [Keith Jackson and Bob Griese] were talking about us probably running the ball when we had the game in hand,” said Doering. “On the next play, I run a deep corner route and catch a touchdown pass in the driving rain. That speaks to how much Spurrier wanted that game.”
It also speaks to the historical dominance the Gators have had on Tennessee in Gainesville. UF coaches Will Muschamp, Jim McElwain and Dan Mullen had brief and/or lackluster tenures with the Gators, but they still went a combined 6-0 at home against the Vols.
With a 7-8 record, Billy Napier and his program could use a jump-start. The Gators desperately need the tradition of Florida having its way with Tennessee at The Swamp to keep going.
Ivy League or bust
Jaguars linebacker Foye Oluokun had his typical productive game in last week’s win over the Indianapolis Colts with 12 tackles, but the highlight he was most proud of had nothing to do with contacting a defender.
On the Colts’ final play, a fourth-and-goal from the 1, Oluokun went out in pass coverage, then reached up with his right hand to deflect a Gardner Minshew pass in the end zone away from Michael Pittman.
“Brought me back to my days playing safety and corner,” said Oluokun, referring to the positions he played at Yale and Johns Burroughs High in St. Louis.
Oluokun felt he was a better basketball player in high school, so much so that he went to a Yale hoops camp before changing his mind and deciding to play football. His father, Yemi, threw away several football letters of interest from Power 5 schools because he wanted his son going to an Ivy League school or a place with greater emphasis on academics.
Now in his sixth season, the 28-year-old undrafted linebacker is one of 33 players from Yale to play in the NFL. Only seven Yale alumni — among them Dallas Cowboys running back Calvin Hill, Chicago Bears safety Gary Fencik, Bears center Mike Pyle, Detroit Lions/Cincinnati Bengals safety Dick Jauron and Philadelphia Eagles tight end John Spagnola — have started more games than Oluokun, who makes his 60th start against the Chiefs.
Will Jaguars be Taylor-made Swifties?
Unsubstantiated rumors are now swirling about Taylor Swift possibly beginning a relationship with Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce. So if by some extreme long shot, the superstar singer makes a surprise appearance for Sunday’s Jaguars game, then owner Shad Khan and city power brokers should arrange a brief meeting with Swift.
Not to talk football, but to convince her that a fully renovated EverBank Stadium in another 5-7 years could potentially be a regular stop on her touring schedule. Can you think of a better non-football tourist attraction for Jacksonville than two or three nights of Swifties selling out The Bank?
Jaguars president Mark Lamping liked the idea of selling Taylor on the Bank, joking: “Maybe we could arrange to have a cake sent to her with the [stadium] renderings.”
Jawaan Taylor’s exploitation
Never in his five-year career has Kansas City Chiefs offensive tackle Jawaan Taylor, the former Jaguar, received so much attention than he did in last week’s 21-20 loss to the Detroit Lions in the NFL season opener.
Taylor, who will likely be matched up against both Jaguars’ pass-rushers Travon Walker and Josh Allen Sunday at EverBank Stadium, was under heavy scrutiny for what appeared to be suspect alignments, lining up too deeply to gain an advantage in pass protection. Taylor has only once in his career been flagged for illegal formation, but he has walked a fine line with false start penalties (16 in his career) because of how he often masterfully times up the snap count.
NBC analyst Cris Collingsworth joked in the Lions game that he was lining up as a slot receiver, adding to the microscope Taylor will be under Sunday against the Jaguars for taking advantage of the subjective nature of some NFL rules.
On Monday, Chiefs coach Andy Reid explained Taylor’s approach this way, saying: “The guys are trying to get every advantage. This has been life since the passing game has come into fruition, that’s been one of the things tackles do.”
You can bet Jaguars coach Doug Pederson will be reminding referee Adrian Hill and his officiating crew before the K.C. matchup to watch how the tackle who played for him last year takes liberties with snap counts and lining up deeper than most at his position.
Hill, a 14-year NFL official, has been assigned five Jaguars’ games since becoming a referee in 2019. The Jaguars are 0-5 in those games and have been flagged for four false starts, none by Taylor. His only infraction in a game worked by Hill’s crew was for holding against the Atlanta Falcons in 2019.
A&M foolish to line Fisher’s pockets
All that ridiculous money Texas A&M has given football coach Jimbo Fisher is starting to look more suspect as time goes on. Last week’s 48-33 loss at Miami did little to soothe frayed nerves in College Station that the Aggies might have overpaid for a coach who has fared only slightly better than predecessor Kevin Sumlin.
After giving him a 10-year, $75 million deal in 2018, A&M foolishly tore that up before the 2021 season and replaced it with a 10-year, $94.95 million fully guaranteed contract. Fisher is 14-12 since that new deal.
A&M would owe Jimbo $76.8 million to part ways with him this year. With Alabama and LSU also looking a bit vulnerable, Fisher’s team better be an SEC West contender in 2023 or the deep-pocketed Aggies might decide to cut their losses.
The most name-appropriate player in college football might well be UCF kicker Colton Boomer, who has converted 18 of 19 field goal attempts in 14 career games. But what he did last week in a road game against Boise State, connecting on kicks from 33, 50 and 55 yards, then a 40-yard game-winner at the gun for an 18-16 Knights win should make the Lake Mary native a UCF folk hero. Given the pressure circumstances under which Boomer delivered, It would behoove the school’s NIL collective to make sure he gets a hefty reward for one of the best road victories in program history. …
The sportsbook BetOnLine has taken notice of Florida State’s meteoric rise under fourth-year coach Mike Norvell. When the 2022 season ended in January, it listed the Seminoles as a 50-1 shot to win the national title. Just before its opening game against LSU, that number was down to 18-1 and moved to 9-1 after FSU dominated the Tigers 45-24. Following last week’s 66-14 rout of Southern Miss, the odds for the ‘Noles to win it all dipped to 13-2. Only Georgia (5-2) and Michigan (21-4) have better odds.
Jaguars over Kansas City Chiefs by 6 (Chris Jones repellents); Los Angeles Chargers over Tennessee Titans by 1 (Ryan Tannehill decline); Houston Texans over Indianapolis Colts by 1 (tense No. 1 draft pick battle); Miami Dolphins over New England Patriots by 1 (reinvigorated Tua); Pittsburgh Steelers over Cleveland Browns by 3 (history lessons); Tennessee over Florida by 5 (overdue Swamp exorcisms); Florida State over Boston College by 31 (CFP style points). Last week: 6 right, 1 Jay Norvell poking-the-Deion-bear move.
Gfrenette@jacksonville.com: (904) 359-4540; Follow him on X (formerly Twitter) at @genefrenette
This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: Gators have had Tennessee's number at home; Will Taylor Swift be at The Bank?