OVERALL RECORD: Florida, 20-19
LAST 10 GAMES: Florida, 7-3
STREAK: Florida, 5
There was a time when this game all but decided the race for the SEC East. In the first ten games after the league began division play in 1992, the winner of this game went to the SEC Championship eight times. (The other two times, the loser went.)
But before that, there wasn't much at stake in the Florida-Tennessee game -- not even bragging rights. From 1916-1991, the teams played 21 times. Tennessee was the overwhelming leader, with a 14-7 edge; the only time Florida won consecutive games was 1976-77 and 1984-85. (There were no games between the two from 1978 to 1983.) At one point, they went fourteen years, from 1955 to 1969, between meetings -- and even then it took the Gator Bowl to create a matchup. (Florida won, 14-13.)
So this game essentially became a rivalry in 1992, when the two teams were the contenders for the SEC East. Or maybe it happened a couple of years earlier, when Steve Spurrier became head coach (and, seemingly, Florida history began). The Tennessee native considered the Vols before he went to Florida -- the offense in Knoxville didn't fit -- and seemed to take particular joy in jabbing at Phil Fulmer and Peyton Manning. ("You can't spell Citrus without UT," he once said in his clearly Tennessee twang.)
Then, from 2002-05, Georgia was the representative of the SEC East three times. The other time, Tennessee won the game with Florida and lost in Atlanta to Auburn. That was in 2004, the last time the Vols won the game. Tennessee did get back to the SEC Championship Game in its Season of Leprechauns and Unicorns in 2007, but only after a 59-20 shellacking in Gainesville -- the Vols worst loss in the series and only one point short of the widest margin in history. (1944, Tennessee 40-0)
The game no longer decides the SEC East, and probably won't for at least a few more years. Neither Urban Meyer nor any of the players currently on the roster have ever lost to Tennessee -- though last year's 10-point victory against and Lane Kiffin, whose jokes and jabs had briefly resparked the rivalry, probably felt a bit like a defeat. Sure, Florida fans will still enjoy any time they can score 50 against the Vols, and Tennessee will still love to upset the Gators anytime they can. But if the game doesn't have the stakes it once did, will anybody else care? And if not, can this game still be considered one of the great SEC rivalries?