There was a time in the third quarter when it looked like Florida would glide past Tennessee for a win and perhaps the right to be the new favorites in the muddled race for the SEC East. They might have still locked down the former, but it will take a little big longer to figure out if they can really claim the latter.
Because Florida, with a chance to run Tennessee out of the stadium holding a 30-7 lead almost halfway through the third, instead let the Volunteers back into the game. Part of that was a mind-boggling 16 penalties for 150 yards, with an almost incomprehensible seven pass-interference flags among them. By the time it was over, you had to wonder -- would South Carolina or even Georgia fail to take advantage if the Gators gave them an opening like that?
Tennessee almost obliged. The Vols outscored the Gators 16-3 the rest of the way and had a few chances to close the final gap. (Derek Dooley, clad in his magnificent orange pants, curiously decided to not try for an onsides kick with less than five minutes left in the game.)
If this game came down to who would take over the right to challenge South Carolina for the favorite title early in the season, Florida got that. But it raised enough questions in the win to give pause. If the Gamecocks lose to Navy, the Gators will obviously take over as front-runners. (As of this writing, the Gamecocks have struggled enough with the Midshipmen to at least open up that possibility.) But barring that, you have to wonder if there's anyone who is a favorite in the race -- and why Florida would be the team to beat if nothing changes.
For now, though, Florida has passed a crucial test and given Will Muschamp his first SEC win. It will take a few more to get him to Atlanta, but it's a start.