GAINESVILLE, Fla. — After an impromptu off week due to Hurricane Irma, the No. 24 Florida Gators football team will host the No. 23 Tennessee Volunteers at 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday to open SEC play.
The Gators are looking to find their footing after a 33-17 loss to Michigan to open the year and a canceled home opener against Northern Colorado. The Volunteers are trying to ride their 2-0 start and pick up a second straight win over Florida for the first time since 2003-2004.
Florida beat writers Zach Abolverdi, Jordan McPherson and Ryan Young make their predictions for how the game on Saturday will unfold.
Abolverdi: Tennessee’s momentum will carry through on Saturday
We will find out so much about both teams Saturday. Tennessee comes into this game riding some early-season momentum after a gut-wrenching win over Georgia Tech and a solid showing last weekend against Indiana State.
Florida, on the other hand, has had a disastrous start to its 2017 season. Had the Gators looked good against Michigan — win or lose — and then followed that up with a Northern Colorado drubbing, I’d feel better about them heading into this game. But as it stands now, Tennessee has the juice and Florida is trying to find it. Vols, 24-17.
McPherson: Saturday’s the chance for Florida to prove itself
Just like the Gators, I’m at a crossroads this week.
Florida needs to win this game. For the fan base. For McElwain. For the chance to keep their hopes for the season alive.
It’s a chance to find out which team the Gators could potentially become throughout the season. Will they be more like the team that was manhandled by Michigan two weeks ago, or the team that was hyped in the preseason to be this improved team with a capable offense?
I’m not entirely sure which direction this team will trend toward throughout the season, but for Saturday, I think Florida likely will be somewhere in between those two extremes. And against Tennessee, that should be enough.
The Volunteers are in the midst of a rebuilding year. The offense is essentially brand new and the defense is without its best player.
If Florida can establish the run game early and the offensive line is serviceable, it should take enough pressure off of Feleipe Franks for him to make an impact with his arm.
The defense needs to tackle, stop the run game and make a couple big plays at big times.
Florida wins, 20-13.
Young: Florida will look a lot different this weekend
Sure, Florida delivered a total dud in its season opener against Michigan. And sure, Tennessee is off to a 2-0 start and has all the momentum heading into the teams’ SEC opener Saturday in The Swamp. But I still think the Gators win this one.
The collapse last year in Knoxville, Tenn., will be ever-present in the players’ minds and motivations. More to the point, I simply think the Gators will look a lot different than they did against the Wolverines. (They can’t look much worse, after all).
Tennessee still has plenty to prove as well, with new quarterback Quinten Dormady and a defense that allowed 655 yards — including 535 yards rushing — to Georgia Tech in Week 1. The Vols somehow managed to win that game despite being nearly doubled up on yards and more than doubled up on time of possession. They then pummeled an FCS-level Indiana State team. I’m not totally convinced yet.
The Gators have even more to prove, but I think the offense finds some rhythm Saturday in the comforts of The Swamp. Florida 27, Tennessee 21.