I don't believe for a second that Tennessee fans will be just fine with a blowout this weekend simply because they were expecting it. Watching your team lose badly is always an excruciating experience, even if you see it coming.
I don't claim to be a clairvoyant, or in this case unique, but I do think a blowout is coming for Tennessee. It also has nothing to do with stale news about off season chatter.
The Tennessee quarterback is the same.
Lane Kiffin might have a death wish for sticking with Jonathan Crompton. Crompton has already thrown a ghastly five interceptions already, not to mention his fumble problems, and Florida returns the entire defense that tied for the national lead in interceptions in 2008. One of the hallmarks of last year's Gator team was absolutely punishing teams for turnovers, and this year's outfit so far is a perfect four-for-four on converting turnovers into touchdowns.
The alternative is that he's trying the shield Nick Stephens. If he expects this game to be bad, then just go ahead and trot the punching bag out there to take it and give the backup a chance at actually winning a game. Crompton is this year's problem only; Stephens has to not only survive the year but start next year unless a freshman or JUCO transfer can win the role. This seems the more likely scenario because:
The Tennessee offensive line is a mess.
Tennessee sent out a center who couldn't snap in practice. On his left was a guard who spent time on the sideline in a walking boot and on the right was another who injured his ankle in the first half against UCLA.
The injuries were lined up in the heart of the UT offensive line in front of a surefire pro on the other side of the ball, and the Vols were nearly helpless to slow him down - and that was just one star. UT really isn't much healthier up front now, but it could use some rapid healing with about 10 more NFL prospects looming Saturday at No. 1 Florida.
That is how Go Vols Xtra began its article yesterday on the state of the Tennessee offensive line (only with more linebreaks, which I deleted). The options are to either play injured starters or play guys who aren't that good. Kiffin says that the line was the worst unit on the team against UCLA last weekend.
Now they will face arguably the best front seven in the SEC coached by arguably the best defensive coordinator in the SEC. They will face pressure from future high draft picks on the line and blitzes from future high draft picks among the linebackers and secondary.
With Crompton under center, Tennessee has to have a good running attack to keep things close against anyone with a pulse. Against a real defense last weekend, the Vols rushed for just over three yards a carry. If they had considerable trouble against UCLA, who has good players but isn't loaded like Florida is, then a disaster is coming.
The Florida offense is relaxed.
Florida's offense struggled at the beginning of last year. Tebow was trying to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders and the coaches weren't sure they trusted anyone carrying the ball but him and Percy Harvin. It led to confusion and unimaginitive play calling that kept the Gators from running up the huge scores they did later in the year.
None of that is a factor now. Tebow is playing loose and there are three different running backs who have earned the coaches' trust. The only way to stop the first team offense so far has been to hope it rains and the rain causes fumbles, but as of right now, rain isn't looking overly likely.
Tennessee's defense is still good, and I'm on the record already as saying the the Florida offense won't rack up huge amounts of points straight up against it. Even so, every normal drive that Florida scores on will only magnify any points of turnovers and the inevitable Brandon James punt return touchdown.
Okay fine. There's motivation on Florida's part.
Last year, Florida went up to Knoxville just hoping to win. They played a conservative game, tried to win with defense and running, and they declined to run up the score on the last drive by running Chris Rainey into the back of the line in Tennessee's red zone.
I will not recount all the things that have occurred over the past 10 months to reignite this rivalry. Just consider it reignited. This fact of course means that Florida will be out for blood, because Urban Meyer doesn't take kindly to slights and he isn't afraid to pile on the points when possible.
Since Tennessee is pretty much expecting a blowout, what can Florida possibly do to get it's pound of flesh? Winning by 30 would simply be covering the point spread. Winning by 40 is what they already did in 2007's 59-20 win. Holding the Vols to under 10 points is what they already did in last year's 30-6 win. How can Florida make Tennessee feel worse than it did blowing a winnable game against UCLA last week?
The only thing I can think of is a shutout. The Gators haven't pitched any kind of shutout since 2006 and haven't shut out an SEC opponent since Mississippi State in 2001. It's not something they do often. It is also the only way to show that Tennessee is worse off with Lane Kiffin's offense than it was with the hated "Clawfense" of 2008. It's the only way to say that the Vols have taken a step back since getting rid of Phillip Fulmer.
There are too many variables at work for me to give a score prediction. Just know that I'll be surprised if the Gators win and don't cover the spread.