The rivalry between the Tennessee Vols and the Florida Gators has been extremely one-sided for more than a decade.
Tennessee is 1-12 in their last 13 matchups with the Gators.
The rivalry hasn’t been one-sided because Florida’s been a great program (except for the stretch when Urban Meyer and Tim Tebow were in town), the Vols have just failed to capitalize on a rough time in Gator history.
Tennessee should’ve been dominating the series during the Will Muschamp/Jim McElwain years. Florida had some bad teams during that span. But the Vols’ stretch of Lane Kiffin/Derek Dooley/Butch Jones proved to be worse than the Muschamp/McElwain years.
The future of Tennessee football, however, is finally looking bright, now that Jeremy Pruitt is leading the program.
Pruitt might be a first time head coach, but he has a coaching pedigree that stands out in a league full of great coaches.
It finally feels like “Tennessee football” again with Pruitt at the helm.
Down in Florida, things aren’t looking as swell.
The Gators hired an established coach to lead their program in 2018, but I’m not sure Dan Mullen is going to take Florida back to a championship level.
I see too much Butch Jones in Dan Mullen.
Take this comment for example.
Some Florida fans have voiced concern over the recruiting rankings. “I look at it this way: Tim Tebow was on everybody’s list. Dak Prescott wasn’t, and both were very successful quarterbacks,” @CoachDanMullen told me. “It’s going beyond that to find who really fits your program.” pic.twitter.com/b4zCbc058j
— Chris Low (@ClowESPN) August 8, 2018
That sounds like something straight out of the mouth of Tennessee’s former coach.
For the most part, recruiting rankings matter. Sure, there will be a few hidden gems here and there. But if a team is going to compete for a championship, they have to consistently sign top five classes. There’s no way around it.
I see a future of mediocrity for the Gators under Mullen. They’ll win seven to nine games most years, but they won’t ever get over the hump.
And look, I know exactly what Florida fans are going to say.
“Mullen made Mississippi State relevant.”
I won’t deny that he did.
But he could’ve been better.
Mullen recruited well enough at Mississippi State to field a top 25 team every year, but the Bulldogs only finished in the top 25 under him on three occasions (Dak Prescott and Nick Fitzgerald can be thanked for two of those instances). They only won ten games one time (Mr. Prescott again).
Here’s Mississippi State’s recruiting rankings under Mullen:
- 2009: 18
- 2010: 30
- 2011: 41
- 2012: 22
- 2013: 24
- 2014: 36
- 2015: 18
- 2016: 28
A great head coach could have that talent in the top 25, occasionally breaking the top 15, on an annual basis. Mike Leach does it at Washington State with worse talent.
Mullen is obviously a good coach. But he doesn’t have the potential to be great. We pretty much know what he is at this point (and he’s continuing to prove that with his odd decisions at Florida).
Pruitt, on the other hand, has the potential to be great. While he obviously also has the potential to be a dud, I think he has what it takes to be one of the best head coaches in the conference. He started by putting together one of the best coaching staffs in the SEC.
As for Mullen? Well he mostly brought his same staff from Mississippi State with him. That’s not the type of staff that’s going to make Florida great. That’s the type of staff that hangs out in the middle of the pack.
Tennessee finally has the upper hand in coaching in their rivalry with Florida. And it might not be long before they have the upper hand in talent.
Vol fans should be excited, because I wouldn’t be surprised if UT owns this series over the next decade.
Featured image via CBS Sports