KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Some Tennessee fans would suggest that seeing the Florida Gators once a year is enough, so why would they possibly want to get to know them better?
Florida, however, is in an interesting transition under second-year coach Jim McElwain, yet another Nick Saban coaching disciple.
The 54-year-old McElwain was hired at Florida after three years as Colorado State’s head coach and promptly won SEC Coach of the Year honors last season, leading the Gators to the league title game.
Prior to his stint in Colorado Springs with the Rams, McElwain had served as Nick Saban’s offensive coordinator at Alabama from 2008-2011.
McElwain, from Missoula, Montana, was a quarterback himself during his playing career at Eastern Washington (1980-1983).
The background plays well at Florida, a program that will forever be tied with College Football Hall of Famer Steve Spurrier.
Spurrier, of course, was a Tennessee prep standout from Johnson City who played at Florida and won the 1966 Heisman Trophy with the Gators.
The 71-year-old Spurrier had unprecedented success coaching Florida in the 1990s, winning six SEC titles and a national title (1996) while revolutionizing the league with his “Fun ’n Gun” offense.
Spurrier left Florida following the 2001 season, a 34-32 loss to Phillip Fulmer that knocked the Gators out of the national title race was the final game he coached at The Swamp.
Spurrier has returned to Florida as a consultant this year after his sudden, unexpected retirement from his post as South Carolina’s head coaching position.
Alabama has long been Tennessee’s traditional rival, and many fans and former players will make that claim.
But since the SEC split into divisional play, in 1992, Florida has been a primary hurdle between the Vols and league championships.
Location: Gainesville, Fla.
Series record: Florida leads, 26-19
Famous alumni: Former Tennessee coach and athletic director Doug Dickey; Olympic swimmer Ryan Locate; NFL all-time leading rusher Emmitt Smith; ESPN/Fox sideline reporter Erin Andrews; Actress Faye Dunaway; TV host Bob Vila; Actor Buddy Ebsen; Soccer player Abby Wambach.
By the numbers
2: Florida was ranked second among Forbes Magazine’s “Best Value Public Colleges” in 2016.
4-0: The Gators are 4-0 against Tennessee when ESPN’s College GameDay is set up in Knoxville when the teams are meeting.
9 QB Rex Grossman set a Florida record with nine straight passing games of 300 yards or more in 2001, finishing as the Heisman Trophy runner-up to Nebraska QB Eric Crouch.
11 Florida has won 11 straight games against Tennessee, the longest win streak by either team in the series.
20 Tim Tebow became the first NCAA player with 20 touchdowns passing and rushing in the same season in 2007, when he finished with 32 passing TDs and 23 TDs rushing, winning the Heisman Trophy.
52 Former Florida athletes have won 52 Olympic gold medals.
114 Gators’ Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel set the school mark with 114 career touchdown passes, a mark that’s not likely to be broken anytime soon.
1986 Paul Simon released the song “You Can Call Me Al,” a tune quickly adopted by the University of Florida band at Gator basketball games as a tribute to the mascot, Albert E. Gator. Albert debuted in 1970.
2,967 Tim Tebow’s 2,967 rushing yards are the most ever by a Florida QB, and his 57 rushing touchdowns also top the list. Josh Dobbs has 1,490 career rushing yards, by comparison.