So I've finally reached the conclusion of my own personal football trilogy and much like "The Godfather", the third part is going to be far less impressive than the first two installments of the series (impressive being a relative term, of course). There aren't alot of other bases to cover just the special teams and the coaching of these two talented ballclubs. That's the funny thing about both of these categories, they traditionally receive far less attention than their respective counterparts. That is until something goes terribly wrong, at which point the media begins to blather incessantly about the importance of solid special teams play and sound coaching.
Special Teams: It's tough to accurately judge a special teams unit at this point in the season. As an example, during the 2001 season the Gators had the worst overall Special Teams unit that I had ever personally witnessed, as evidenced by Ingle Martin's stint as the starting punter as well as a 300 yard return day by none other than Derek Abney versus Florida at the Swamp that nearly resulted in a Gator loss to Kentucky of all schools. As bad as this unit was (believe me...they were AWFUL) the signs of this debacle didn't begin to rear it's ugly head until after the Tennessee game. Sadly, this year's version of the Gator Special teams has looked similarly unimpressive thus far. All told, Florida has kicked three kickoffs out of bounds, missed three extra points and had one semi-impressive retrun of any kind. Not good times. In games like this it is often special teams that make the difference between winning and losing. Tennessee on the other hand traditionally has fantastic special teams and I expect this year to be no different. I can't say that I know anything about this year's unit other than the Vols have yet another Colquitt kid as their starting punter. He's the younger brother of former All-American Dustin Colquitt and is said to have the same type of ability as his brother. By the way, this whole Colquitt as a punter at UT has gotten downright ridiculous. This is the fifth Colquitt (counting uncles and such) to punt at UT. It's like Fulmer is genetically engineering clones and giving them each a different first name. Have I mentioned that I hate Tennessee?
Coaches: This is a bit tricky as well. We all assume that Urban Meyer is a good coach, but have any of us really watched enough of him in action to know what kind of gameday instincts he possesses? I know I haven't. That's the thing with coaching. You can be a hell of a recruiter and prepare your kids as well as anybody in the country, but if you don't have the ability to change and adapt on the fly you will end up losing the really tight games against your best opponents. For further proof see: Ron Zook, John Cooper, etc. On the other side of the coin, I have never really viewed Fat Phil as a great coach. Sure he wins alot of games but that has as much to do with the talent that he brings to Knoxville as anything else. His game plans are rarely inventive and he has never been accussed of being a great tactician on either side of the ball. If I had more personal experience watching Urban Meyer on a gameday in the big moments then I'd be much more confident in his ability to outcoach the Great Pumpkin. As it stands now, I will nervously give the nod to Mr. Meyer.
Pick: I am going with the Gators by a touchdown in this one. I'm sure some people would look at my breakdown and wonder how I can choose the Gators even though I've given the edge to Tennessee in the categories of Offensive Line, Defensive Line, and Special teams as these are the areas where the tight games often turn.
My reasoning is this: I believe that Florida is very close to the Vols in the matchup of the lines, though Tennessee is still superior. I also believe that Florida has a decided in advantage in the secondary and wide receiver categories. The matchups in these areas as well as the increased maturation of Chris Leak will be the deciding factors in Saturday evening's much ballyhooed showdown. Unfortunately, this will be the first Florida-Tennessee game at the Swamp that I won't be attending in eight years. I won't get to feel the excitement in the air when the Gators come flying onto the field. Nor will I get to tackle a complete stranger after Chris Leak connects on a 40+ yard strike. Worst of all, I won't be able to use my full arsenal of cousin banging and dental hygene jokes on the pack of inbreds who will most assuredly make the trek from Knoxville to support their beloved Vols. Normally I would be heartbroken by such circumstances, and I am still a bit sad to know that I'll miss the first big game of the Urban Meyer era. I'll get over it I assure you. I'll get over it because I'll be watching the game from a bar in the Bahamas. As much as I love Gainesville (I went back for my Master's in order to get two more years of student tickets) it doesn't quite compare to the Carribean. God help me if there's a Tennessee fan anywhere near me come Saturday night. I'm not the kind of guy who was meant to do time in a foreign prison.