Is 2015 the Year the Vols Get the Gator Off Their Backs?

“Yeah!” by Usher was the Billboard’s No. 1 hit.

The social media site MySpace was just more than a year old.

Shrek 2 was the country’s top box office hit.

Tennessee used two freshman quarterbacks, a late personal foul from receiver Dallas Baker, and a 50-yard field goal as time expired from James Wilhoit to beat Florida, 30-28.

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The year was 2004. That Sept. 18 victory over the rival Gators in Knoxville prompted Tennessee to a 10-win campaign, a SEC East title and a top-15 finish. Unfortunately for the Volunteers, they have not managed to beat Florida since.

Saturday’s contest in Gainesville however, has Tennessee fans optimistic. The Volunteers took a 9-0 lead into the fourth quarter last year in Knoxville before Treon Harris replaced starter Jeff Driskel at quarterback and led a comeback in an eventual 10-9 Florida victory.

Much of Florida’s recent success against Tennessee came during a time where the Gators were one of the elite programs in the nation. Former Florida head coach Urban Meyer went a perfect 6-0 against Tennessee from 2005-2010 — a span where the Gators won two national championships and three BCS bowls.

But even in the post-Meyer era where Florida went just 30-21 in four seasons under Will Muschamp, the Gators have managed to have Tennessee’s number. During Florida’s 4-8 campaign in 2013 — the worst in more than three decades — the Gators handled Tennessee, 31-17. In each of the last two seasons, Florida has defeated the Volunteers with the contribution of a backup quarterback.

The head man the last time the Volunteers got the better of the Gators was Phillip Fulmer. Fulmer made Tennessee a perennial power during his 17-year tenure, but managed to go just 5-12 against Florida. Since Fulmer was let go following a 5-7 campaign in 2008, Lane Kiffin, Derek Dooley and Butch Jones have all unsuccessfully tried to beat Florida.

With Jones, the feeling in Knoxville is that the program is on the rise. Tennessee hasn’t won more than seven games in any season since 2007, but the Volunteers have recruited with the nation’s best under Jones and began the year ranked for the first time since 2008.

While first-year Florida head coach Jim McElwain is hoping to leave a different legacy in Gainesville than his predecessor, beating Tennessee is a trend from the Will Muschamp era that he would love to continue. Though the Gators are off to a 3-0 start, things haven’t come easy as Florida has had to hold off rallies from East Carolina and Kentucky in each of the last two weeks.

The Gators may have been able to survive the close calls, but Tennessee has already let one get away this year. In what could have been a statement game, the Volunteers took a 17-3 lead into the fourth quarter against Oklahoma two weeks ago, only to see that lead evaporate into a 31-24 double-overtime loss.

Tennessee rebounded with an easy victory over Western Carolina, but being unable to beat a Florida team in a transition year could serve as a huge pitfall in a season that began with so much optimism for the folks on ol’ Rocky Top.

About Mike Ferguson

Mike Ferguson is a Bloguin contributor, the editor of Noled Out and a lifetime Florida State sports enthusiast. Mike vividly remembers watching Warrick Dunn run down the sideline in Gainesville in 1993, the "Choke at Doak" in 1994 and Monte Cummings' driving layup to beat #1 Duke in 2002. Mike has worked as a sports reporter in both print and online. For isportsweb in 2013, Mike gave press coverage of Florida State football's run to the 2013 national championship. Mike has been featured on SI.com, FoxSports.com and Yahoo Sports while interviewing major sports stars such as 2013 National League MVP Andrew McCutchen. Mike graduated from Florida State University in 2009 with a major in Religion and a minor in Communications. Mike currently resides in Haines City, Florida with his wife Jennifer and daughters Trinity and Greenly. Mike is a full-time reporter at Polk County's newspaper, The Ledger, in Lakeland, Florida. Mike can be followed on Twitter @MikeWFerguson.

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