Robert Craft

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Old Nemesis

By: Robert Craft news services

This is just another SEC Championship Game. The argument will be made here, probably determining whether Georgia wins their third national championship in a row.

UGA has yet to beat Alabama in the SEC championship or at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

If Georgia beats Alabama on Saturday, they have national champion written all over them.

If Georgia loses to Alabama, there is no College Football Playoff.

Feel free to take those statements and throw them back at me next month. Say it: I’m SEC biased, or  too dependent  on recent history.

Georgia’s biggest hurdle awaits them Saturday. The main reason is talent..

The most talented team in the country, per the 247Sports team talent composite, is Alabama. The third-most talented team is Ohio State.

Class, who is the last team to beat Georgia? That would be Alabama two years ago, in the SEC championship. Which team since then has come the closest? Ohio State, in last year’s CFP semifinal.

The Crimson Tide are still in the Bulldogs’ way. By Smart’s own admission, quarterbacks who can run and throw have given Georgia’s defense problems, and you might have noticed that Jalen Milroe can run and throw.

He has multiple receivers who can make plays Jermaine Burton, playing against his former team for the first time, and Isaiah Bond, the man who caught fourth-and-31 to win the Iron Bowl.

No, Georgia is not doomed. It’s a modest favorite (4.5 points) for the right reasons, and the temptation in this space would be to take Georgia to cover. But it is a mere temptation, because Alabama, Saban and his talented unit are going to be a tough out.

First, of course, they need to make the Playoff, and at this point, the SEC Championship looks like win-and-in, lose-and-out.

That wasn’t the case for Georgia the past two years, but this year there are too many viable candidates in other conferences. There are only four spots, and if Alabama beats Georgia it would get one of them. The Pac-12 championship will get another. The chaos scenario thus requires two of the following three: Michigan losing to Iowa, Florida State losing to Louisville, Texas losing to Oklahoma State.

We’ve been waiting for the chaos, and the chaos hasn’t occurred yet, so it’s probably time to stop waiting.

We could also get into a scenario in which Georgia loses on a late field goal or disputed call, and two of the three win in the same fashion. That’s maybe when the committee finds a way to jam Georgia in.

This is a committee made of human beings who apparently think a lot of Georgia, and might also appreciate the three-peat storyline. If it’s close, that would help Georgia. But it’s harder and harder to see the close scenario. It’s setting up to be fairly clear choices for the committee.

If someone is going to stop Georgia from a three-peat, the most likely team is the one that for the longest time was its nemesis, and could still be again.

Last Laugh

By: Robert Craft news services

After Florida State’s win on Saturday, I wrote that FSU fans should never, ever dismiss rivalry wins. Especially when playing for so much, a loss would be devastating .

10-0 is pretty darn sweet. Even more when considering the last five or six years and THOSE challenges.

Which builds me a bridge to what happened in College Station on Sunday:

And let’s be clear, I’m not here to kick dirt on Jimbo Fisher while he’s down. Well, maybe not a wheelbarrow’s worth. It’s hard to refer to someone getting paid $75 million to not work as ‘down’.  That sounds pretty up to me all things considered.

FSU fans remember and appreciate Jimbo’s run he had and the program he rebuilt in Tallahassee for about a decade. That 2013 team was one of the best in the history of the sport. He won three straight ACC championships and coached in five straight New Year’s Six bowl games.

For a time, Jimbo Fisher was a fantastic coach. He modernized a program that was in desperate need. Fisher’s accomplishments can never be overlooked, but what Jimbo never realized is he needed Florida State as much as Florida State needed Jimbo.

Fisher complained so much during his time in Tallahassee about what he wanted, about how hard it was to get things done or built or paid for or- At the end of his time there, he never came close to appreciating how great his job was.

He intimated repeatedly that Florida State wasn’t committed to winning. Which is, in today’s football, laughable.

He needed more resources. More money. More stuff. More. More. More.

Then he went to a place that has more than anyone. Jimbo fell on his face. Meanwhile, six years later, the place that isn’t committed to winning is 10-0 and ranked in the Top 4.

I truly wonder, on a day like Sunday if it ever hits Jimbo how completely idiotic a decision it was to leave Tallahassee to go coach in the talent wasteland in College Station.

I get it. His bank account has a bunch of extra zeroes now. He’s got all the ranches he could ever want.

For a dude that seemed so competitive, that just loves ball, loves coaching ball, loves winning, he absolutely torpedoed his chances at multiple championships and a lasting legacy because he was too busy whining about what he didn’t have.

Florida State was a punchline for a few years. Even Texas A&M fans, whose program hasn’t won a national title since Bobby Bowden was a 10-year-old boy, had the audacity to make fun of FSU’s plight.

Texas A&M’s savior, the one that Florida State fans warned them about, just got canned. Aggies, welcome to the punchline, you still owe Jimbo the GDP of a small country to go away.

Meanwhile, the Seminoles are  10-0 and two wins away from a perfect regular season.

Florida State has always been a special and dominant brand. Coach Norvell has re-established that.

No one is laughing at the Seminoles anymore.

Chanting Through The Storm

By: Robert Craft news services

It is officially Miami week for the Florida State Seminoles.

No. 4 FSU is an early 14.5-point favorite for Saturday’s game, set for 3:30 p.m. at Doak Campbell Stadium.

The Seminoles are 9-0 and 7-0 in Conference, while Miami is 6-3 and 2-3.

Despite dealing with several injuries, Tyler Van Dyke is leading the Hurricanes at quarterback once again this season.

He has 2,057 yards on 170-of-251 passing, which is a solid 67.7 percent completion percentage. But he also has thrown 11 interceptions to go with his 16 touchdowns. Van Dyke has thrown more picks than any quarterback in the ACC.

Freshman QB Emory Williams has also played in four games for the Hurricanes, completing 36 of 48 passes for 295 yards, one touchdown and an interception.

In the running game, Miami has distributed carries between several different backs. Henry Parrish and Don Chaney have shouldered most of the load, but freshman Mark Fletcher ran for 115 yards on 23 carries last Saturday against N.C. State.

Parrish leads the running backs overall with 469 yards and four touchdowns on 77 carries. Chaney has 379 yards and two touchdowns on 75 carries.

Receivers Xavier Restrepo and Jacoby George have  been solid for Miami in the air.

As for the defense, safety James Williams  leads the team in tackles with 51. All-ACC safety Kamren Kinchens and Te’Cory Couch have also been notable leaders in the secondary for Miami. Kinchens has four interceptions on the year (second in the ACC) and Couch has three, tying him for third in the conference.

Freshman Rueben Bains Jr. leads the team with 6.5 sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss. His sack total ranks 4th in the conference.

As a team, the Hurricanes have lost three of their last five games, starting with a late collapse against Georgia Tech. Then, they lost at North Carolina before beating Virginia and Clemson in overtime at home. The Hurricanes come into Doak after a 20-6 loss at N.C. State last Saturday.

The Hurricanes rank 38th nationally in scoring offense at 32.1 points per game and 30th in scoring defense at 20.0.

If history is any indication, the odds are very strong that the Florida State football team will defeat Miami this Saturday and improve to 10-0 on the season.

Since 1997, the earliest point spread records available online, Florida State is a perfect 5-0 when favored by double-digits against the rival Miami Hurricanes. And UM has never lost to FSU when favored by that much.

Miami is a bit of a mess right now (always?), but I think the game states that the Hurricanes are likely to be playing angry against Florida State. I think Miami might be able to find a little more success through the air than one would expect. Meanwhile, Florida State should be getting a little healthier on the offensive side of the ball.

FSU 38 Miami 13

Almighty Georgia Bulldogs

By: Robert Craft news services

The St. Johns River will soon be flooded with fans of orange and blue, and fans of red and black. It’s Florida-Georgia week, one like none other in over 30 years.

The No. 1 Georgia Bulldogs and Florida Gators will meet at TIAA Bank Field on Saturday and Georgia will come into the game as the two time defending National Champions.

Georgia handled business in their last game when they defeated the Vanderbilt Commodores 37-20. They will look to nurse their injured players during their bye week and return with more strength on the roster.

The Gators, on the other hand, overcame a double-digit deficit on the road to defeat the South Carolina Gamecocks. They’ll also be taking advantage of the week off.

Despite both teams coming off wins, the Bulldogs still find themselves as massive favorites. Georgia is currently a -23.5 point favorite over the arch-rival Florida Gators.

The Bulldogs, 7-0 overall and 4-0 in the SEC East with a Oct. 28 showdown with Florida approaching, lost their Superman (Brook Bowers) to an ankle injury that required surgery.

Bowers is a junior and will enter the NFL Draft after the season. A high ankle sprain heals by itself with plenty of time before the NFL combine.

Instead, Bowers is getting the tightrope surgery, and right away. That’s a huge sign from him that he wants to play again this season for Georgia.

He doesn’t need to show anything to NFL scouts. But his team is in contention for a national championship, and while it’s easy for outsiders to say “Just opt out, make a business decision,” it’s much harder for someone to abandon his teammates when a ring is on the line.

Bowers has played in every game since he arrived at Georgia. He’s not the sole reason Georgia is 36-1 over that span, but he’s a big reason the offense took off during that time: Defenses had to account for him in coverage, and Bowers is also a good blocker.

The Bulldogs are still loaded with talent. Carson Beck, in his first year as Georgia’s starting quarterback, has the fourth-most passing yards (2,147) in the nation. And barely more than a quarter of those (26.4 percent) have gone to Bowers.

Oscar Delp, who now becomes TE1, is no slouch. He’s Georgia’s fifth-leading receiver and was a top-100 recruit in the 2022 class. His blocking has been rough at times, which is why Lawson Luckie may see a lot of snaps in rotation as TE2.

Georgia’s main emphasis may become “spread-out-and-throw”. Beck likes to sit back in the pocket and find the open receiver, and the pass blocking this year has been good.

Plus, you have Ladd McConkey  being back, Rara Thomas getting more comfortable, and other receivers who can make plays.

Georgia’s running game has also started to get stronger, especially if Kendall Milton can stay healthy. That could also allow Dillon Bell to play more receiver or a hybrid position.

Maybe Georgia doesn’t have the X-factor for its’ offense as long as Bowers is out, but a more traditional receivers-and-tailbacks game can get you through an opponent like Florida.

The Bulldog defense will  keep the Gators in check, maybe along the lines of 14-to-20 points, a Bowers-less offense will take it from there, and the lead will get bigger and bigger.

Georgia 42  Florida 17

Kirby Hates Florida

By: Robert Craft news services

Kirby Smart Hates Florida. He hates them with the fire of a thousand suns.

He gives the media plenty of coach speak about how Florida is another game, and all league games are important. He tells the cameras that he and his staff must prepare the same every week.

He says that great talent exists across college football, and anyone can beat you any day of the week. Despite all of that talk, Kirby Smart lives to beat Florida.

He has made beating the Gators a priority and celebrated the last two victories over Florida with a level of expression that ‘Stern Smart’ rarely shows.

At this point, it’s well known that Smart was a safety at Georgia from 1995-1998. He recorded 13 interceptions for the Bulldogs and was an All-SEC selection his Senior year. Smart’s time wearing silver britches also coincided with some of the worst beatings in the history of the Florida-Georgia rivalry.

Smart’s teams lost to the Gators 52-17 in 1995, 47-7 in 1996 and 38-7 in 1998. Kirby and the Dawgs did get to taste victory in 1997, when they pulled a 37-17 upset over the Gators. It would be Georgia’s only victory out of 14 meetings against the Gators.

Steve Spurrier hated Georgia for beating him in his senior season of 1966 when the Dawgs upset the Gators 27-10. The loss cost UF their first SEC Championship, and Spurrier never forgot. That loss kept him from becoming a champion. Needless to say, Spurrier made beating Georgia a priority throughout his coaching career.

For years UGA had a lovely habit of beating Florida anytime the Gators had a good season, and that ownership created the monster that ended Georgia’s dominance in the rivalry.

Let’s go back to the infamous 1995 game against the Gators. Georgia and Florida played in Sanford Stadium due to the old Gator Bowl being renovated, and prior to the game Steve Spurrier found out that no opponent had ever scored 50 points between the hedges.

With the game out of reach late in the fourth quarter, and the Gators leading 45-17, Spurrier continued to call passing plays for backup quarterback Eric Kresser.

The Gators ran a flea-flicker, at one point on their final drive and moved the ball down to Georgia’s 10-yard line instead of running out the clock. With 1:10 remaining Kresser threw a touchdown on a slant to Travis McGriff.

I found something fascinating watching the end of that game on YouTube. Do you know who McGriff jogged past right after he caught that final touchdown?

True freshman safety, Kirby Smart.

The Gators ran the score up to embarrass the Dawgs, and that’s when Spurrier passed the flaming torch of revenge to Smart.

A little over 24 years ago, Steve Spurrier created the man who would bring Spurrier-style vitriol and hatred to the Bulldogs’ side of the rivalry.  That man is Kirby Smart.

80 Million Dollar Mistake?

By: Robert Craft news services

None of the given explanations made sense. Nothing would have.

Mario Cristobal blew it.

Miami lost a game they shouldn’t have, in stunningly idiotic fashion.

If quarterback Tyler Van Dyke was ordered to take a knee on a third-and-10 with a running clock at under 40 seconds, the Hurricanes would be 5-0; talking about how they escaped with an ugly 20-17 win over Georgia Tech.

Instead, the sports world is scratching their heads wondering why he handed the ball off to Don Chaney Jr.

The Yellow Jackets ran out of timeouts, and that led to the fumble that set up the Yellow Jackets’ miracle  comeback.

Chaney was closing in on his first 100-yard rushing game of his career. He was sitting on 99 yards when he carried it for the final time.

When asked directly about why he called the run play, Cristobal denied that the 100yd milestone was the reason. At the end of the game, Miami’s official stats later reflected that Chaney finished with 106 yards, but in real-time Miami’s official stats listed him at 99 yds before his final carry.

Why did Miami not take a knee and take the W?

Hurricane fans, how does this unimaginable and embarrassing loss take place?

It’s a mistake you’d think every coach would  avoid. Cristobal, though, has fallen victim to running an unnecessary play in a clock-killing situation twice now. It happened to his team at Oregon in 2018.

The Ducks led Stanford 31-28 late, and quarterback Justin Herbert could have knelt to run the clock down to 16 or fewer seconds and set up a punt near midfield.

Instead, Oregon running back CJ Verdell  ran it on second-and-2 and fumbled. The Cardinal took over with 51 seconds remaining, forced overtime and went on to beat the Ducks 38-31.

Cristobal’s explanation about Saturday’s clock management strategy on the final drive didn’t make much sense.

Why would any coach in their right mind run it on third-and-10 with 33 seconds left in the game after Georgia Tech had used its final timeout two plays earlier?

What were the final 26 seconds like for the guy in charge on the other sideline? Well, Georgia Tech coach Brent Key was stunned Miami didn’t take a knee either.

Surprise turned to elation when his team pounced on its opportunity, as Haynes King connected with Christian Leary on the game-winning 44-yard touchdown pass with only two seconds left.

Miami has not won an ACC home game under Cristobal. They’re 0-5 in league play at Hard Rock Stadium since December 2021. Cristobal is looking a lot like the 10-year 80 dollar mistake.

He blew a huge opportunity Saturday to prove Miami was past its bye-week blues and capable of handling a three-touchdown underdog.

The Hurricanes may redeem themselves by beating a Tar Heels team they’ve lost four consecutive games to, followed by a Clemson squad that has beaten them by a combined score of 178-30 in their last four meetings.

It’s not impossible. Nothing in this article says this Miami team is untalented.

Dumber things have happened. Coaches have an infinite potential of stupidity.

I’m not sure we’ll see anything dumber than what we saw this Saturday for quite some time. Where were you while Hurricane history was taking place?

Unpaid Workers

By: Robert Craft news services

Much of the discourse at Wednesday’s legislative hearing on NIL centered around pay-for-play and NIL collectives.

With two sitting athletic directors as witnesses and a former Heisman Trophy winner as a third, the narrative of what the NCAA wants to see fixed in college sports was clear.

More guidelines. A different framework. Ability to crack down on inducements.

The nearly two-hour hearing before the House Committee on Small Business on Wednesday won’t inch Congress any closer to delivering the NCAA its long-sought federal bill.

Remember this hearing for another reason: It highlighted what lawmakers of the NCAA’s efforts to lobby Congress. The NCAA is confronting the brink of a revolutionary transformation- ushered in by the NIL era two years ago.

The NCAA is a powerless organization with no ability to build consensus among power conferences. It feels each team has been busy all summer poaching each other’s schools to construct super conferences, funded by billions of TV dollars, while side stepping what’s permitted to line the pockets of athletes and coaches.

Here’s the reality: The winds of change are fiercely blowing in one direction: toward a long-overdue revenue-sharing model. The NCAA has exerted all of its’ efforts toward leaning on Congress to save it.

Its wish list includes a preemption of state NIL laws, at least partial antitrust protection, and a formal designation that athletes are not employees.

Congress wants clear, concise messaging on what solutions college stakeholders seek. Right now, there is no clear messaging. As a result, Congress isn’t eager to solve the NCAA’s problems.

Here’s why no clear messaging to congress is a critical issue in the NIL space. Evolving NCAA guidance still maintains the need for established distance between schools and collectives.

Most Power 5 schools are ignoring that guidance. Lack of regulation matters because 95% of collective dollars go to male athletes.

On another note, discussion centered on the need for more transparency, uniformity on NIL contracts, and a collective agent registry.

The NCAA’s NIL subcommittee this summer was green-lighted to develop those elements, along with an NIL database. Votes on those policy changes will occur next month and in January.

Overall, for all their efforts lobbying Congress, which has intensified in recent months, the NCAA’s ball hasn’t moved. It’s mired on the wrong side of the field, facing fourth-and-long and needing a Hail Mary with no quarterback.

With the NCAA ceding all opportunities to get in front of developments, the action will occur in the courtrooms, continuing as soon as tomorrow.

Like it or not, a new model is coming. The NCAA chooses to play the role of bystander, futilely pleading for a Congressional helping hand.

Fans, keep your eyes on “ Johnson vs. NCAA and House vs. NCAA, these two are working their way through the courts.

Also, the National Labor Relations Board’s Los Angeles office has filed its unfair labor practice complaint against USC, the Pac-12 Conference and the NCAA (a hearing is scheduled for Nov. 7).

These machinations are viewed as a slow march toward student-athletes being designated as employees. That probable scenario will dramatically reshape college athletics.


By: Robert Craft news services

There were moments during the Alabama-USF game when Nick Saban was in pure anguish. The sideline faces of Saban have always been a trip, even when his team is playing brilliantly but this was different.

These faces, or blank stares, were coming from a man who seemed numb. It felt like he was nonverbally asking the question: “How did The University of Alabama get here?” How?

How did Alabama — the most consecutively talented team in modern college football — get to a place where they don’t have a quarterback?

That’s a complicated question to answer. It’s not like Alabama didn’t create options through recruiting and the transfer portal. The Tide came into the season with five quarterbacks on the roster, each ranked among the top 160 as a recruit.

Among them Jalen Milroe, Tyler Buchner, Ty Simpson, Eli Holstein and Dylan Lonergan, someone would figure it out, right?

They are all from different places, having varying experience levels and with different styles of play. Everybody continued to just assume the great Saban would find one of them to lead this ultra-talented team back to the College Football Playoff. What evidence in the past has proven this assumption wrong?

It turns out, in the 2023 season- Alabama has a problem not even Saban can solve, even if he’s the greatest coach in college football history.

Sometimes coaches, even the great ones, hit a lull and that can lead to some uncomfortable moments on gameday. This isn’t to say Saban lost his touch or no longer knows the quarterback recruitment landscape. This could be a result of constant assistant turnover on his staff.

Whatever the root may be, the issue has become increasingly clear: there’s a disconnect between the players they are recruiting and the output delivered on the field. This seems to be an evaluation and developmental issue, which could mean bad years ahead for the longtime greats.

What production has Alabama put on the field recently. I’m not sure anyone could watch that and say something isn’t wrong. And it’s not a numbers issue. The Tide successfully signed a QB in a recruitment class and had players transfer in.

These aren’t the normal transition pains a program experiences when it transitions from a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback to someone new. This is what it looks like to go from elite to bad.

We’re talking about the same coach and program that put a true freshman into the national championship game at halftime and let him fling it. It didn’t take Tua Tagovailoa long to show everyone he was a star.

What’s truly bizarre is why Milroe didn’t play at all in the USF game. Through all the agony coming through on the television, you’d think the Crimson Tide would have turned to the most experienced quarterback on the roster who surely could have made plays with his legs to win the game. Instead, it seemed like a prolonged experiment from Saban to see whether someone anyone could quarterback this team.

Talent, legendary coaching, incredible fans, intimidating stadium, the lore of being one of the best programs in college football history…None of it matters if you don’t have someone special taking the snaps.

Look at the entire SEC — the conference seems down because the quarterback play has been down. Look at all of the non conference games the SEC has lost this season.

In almost every single one, the team that beat the SEC squad had an advantage at quarterback.

Even the greatest coach of all time can’t solve the issue of not having a top-level quarterback, whether he is to blame or not.

Power Surge

By: Robert Craft news services

I don’t know the journey the 2023 Braves will lead, but I now know the magnitude of their journey to this present moment.

They haven’t merely wrapped up the National League East. Their lineup is doing things baseball fans haven’t seen done in 50 years, 90 years, 100 years … or ever, for that matter, and that’s only now dawning on them.

There’s something funny about making history, you see. You don’t always recognize it when you’re in the middle of it, living and watching it, day in and day out.

There’s no perfect stat. There’s no perfect metric that reveals, unequivocally, the identity of the The Greatest Offense of All Time. So, if you’re even in the argument, alongside those ’27 Yankees, there’s no need to quibble about where to place the decimal points. We’re witnessing greatness, period.

Here’s an incredible difference between these Braves and those Yankees. Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig were twice as good at creating runs as the average hitter of that era, but they were part of a top-heavy lineup that didn’t have the depth of this Braves lineup, believe it or not the Braves are deeper and a higher utility team.

It doesn’t get much more old-school than home runs and stolen bases. And the triple digits in those categories are a reminder that the Braves can beat you one way on night one and a whole different way on night 2.

That 2019 Twins team that set the home run record the Braves are chasing, for most homers in a season (307). That team stole 28 bases all season. Ronald Acuna almost had that many himself by Memorial Day.

Even if they take their foot off the gas in the next few days, the Braves are almost a lock to lead the majors in homers by 50.  No team has even done that in 55 years.

Only two teams in history that stole 100 bases even reached 250 homers the same season: the 2019 Brewers  (250) and last year’s Yankees (254).

Hard to argue that this team isn’t special! The only two previous teams in history to bop 300 homers, the 2019 Twins and 2019 Yankees. They stole 83 bases combined. Acuña is on pace to steal 73 this year all by himself.

The Braves could have nine players with at least 20 homers! No team has ever done that.

The Braves could also have five players with at least 30 homers! Only the 2019 Twins have done that. And they just became the first team ever to have four men hit 35 or more.

They could lead the sport in slugging by 40 points! (They were at 43 through Sunday.) The only teams since 1900 to do that are the ’27 Yankees and 1953 Boys of Summer Dodgers.

I could spit out many more magic numbers for these Braves. But I’ve made my point. I never saw Ruth and Gehrig in 1927, but I’m watching Acuña and Olson here in 2023.

Now, there’s one more thing that needs to happen, one more thing they need to accomplish to make this season truly special, and historic.

The Braves just have to finish it. If October goes like the first six months of this season, they’ll be swirling around all these numbers for the rest of their lives.

If the Braves fail to win The World Series, they are just numbers that will be semi-forgotten.

House Of Horrors

By: Robert Craft news services

Neither team is in the top 10. In fact, only one of them is ranked. There are no Heisman favorites playing. But make no mistake, Saturday’s Florida Gators-Tennessee Vols game at the Swamp is big. Always expect a sellout crowd.

Tennessee looks to win back-to-back games over Florida in the rivalry for the first time since 2003-2004 and to win in The Swamp for the first time since 2003.

The Vols are coming off an exciting 38-33 win over the Gators at Neyland Stadium a season ago, a victory that sparked the 11-win campaign.

Josh Heupel’s bunch looked out of sorts against Austin Peay last week, thus getting back on track and having proper communication is key as this matchup will be the first true road game of the season for the Big Orange.

It’s a massive game for both parties involved. The contest will be the ‘tempo setter’ for the Vols and the first challenge ahead of a grueling SEC schedule.

For the Gators, this is a critical rivalry game with Billy Napier, this is the biggest game in his coaching career. Both squads are trying to find themselves early in the season, but the game slows down for no one.

Florida is eager to make a statement under Napier. They want to show that they’re going to take a step forward in Napier’s second season. Beating Tennessee, especially after losing to the Vols last season, would certainly send a message that Florida is moving in the right direction under Napier.

For Tennessee, the Florida game is the first real obstacle in their quest for a SEC East division title. With Georgia looking like a good bet to run the table until their late November matchup with the Vols, Tennessee knows that a loss to Florida on Saturday in the Swamp will make winning an SEC East title significantly tougher, if not impossible.

Through two games, this typically high flying Tennessee offense—or more specifically the passing game element of that offense—hasn’t been racking up the explosive plays like fans are accustomed to seeing.

Heupel understands that there’s frustration about Tennessee’s performance on Saturday in a game that most expected would be well in hand by halftime.

The Vols are running the ball great at the moment, averaging 6.1 yards per carry on the season. The aforementioned SEC-worst 6.67 yards per passing attempt is holding the offense back.

Tennessee is converting just 32% on third down, which ranks 13th in the SEC. That’s also a concern but the Vols haven’t exactly faced a murderer’s row of defenses in the first two weeks.

Florida has potential to surprise people this season but could struggle to reach bowl eligibility.

I side more so with the latter. I am not a believer in Graham Mertz and don’t see Florida having a good pass rush.

The receiver’s youth won’t help Mertz, and shaky offensive line play will prevent Florida’s run game from reaching its potential. With that, the Swamp will impact The Vols offense. That should go without saying.

Gainesville is a house of horrors for Tennessee, no question about it. And if there is one must-win game for the Gators in 2023, it’s Tennessee.

With the game being in week three, Florida needs to set the tone for the rest of their season.

Florida 27    Tennessee 24

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