By Charlotte Wilder
FOX Sports activities Columnist
Tennessee vs. Florida is at all times an enormous deal for Vol Nation.
Together with Alabama, the Gators are the Volunteers’ greatest rivals, to the purpose the place Tennesseans make a degree to cook dinner and eat alligators when Florida is on the town. I respect the dedication to the bit. And since I’m heading to Knoxville this week forward of this matchup, I could need to attempt it (there is a first for all the pieces).
However this 12 months, the rivalry takes on new that means. As a result of in 2022, Tennessee is definitely good. The truth is, Tennessee is SW good that it’s undefeated and presently ranked No. 11 within the nation. That is the Vols’ finest begin since going 5-0 in 2016 (which, I’m advised, was six years in the past, however feels prefer it was at the very least 15).
This 12 months is decidedly completely different, and I will attempt to not jinx it as I clarify why. Final 12 months, the Vols went 7–6 total and 4–4 in-conference beneath first-year head coach Josh Heupel. The 12 months earlier than that, they went 3-7. the 12 months earlier than that, they went 8-5. You get the image. The final nationwide championship win for Tennessee got here in 1998, which was — wanna really feel outdated? — a number of years earlier than a lot of the gamers on this 12 months’s crew had been born.
So that is the primary time shortly that the majority faculty soccer followers will likely be paying shut consideration to this traditional SEC struggle as the sport kicks off on Saturday. And I’m fortunate sufficient to absorb the total expertise beginning on Wednesday.
I will let you know what I am wanting ahead to whereas I am on the town, however I might actually love your enter. The place does our crew need to eat whereas we’re in Knoxville? What landmark cannot I miss? Who’s the most important tremendous fan you realize?
tweet at me or discover me on Instagram, as a result of I need to see the Tennessee that you simply see. I need the within scoop.
The precise soccer
Since 2004, the Volunteers have solely defeated Florida eleven.
Eleven! In 18 years! That is the identical age as a number of the gamers on the crew! My goodness!
That singular win got here in 2016. So it is protected to say that everybody in Knoxville may use a W in opposition to the Gators. And as I made clear above, that is the primary 12 months the place it looks like there’s an opportunity. The Vols’ QB, Hendon Hooker, not solely has the most effective identify for a Tennessee quarterback, however he additionally has the most effective arm. It is his sixth 12 months in a school program…
… and he is been main the Vols to assertion wins. A number of of Tennessee’s offensive crew stats rank within the high 10 within the nation throughout the season’s first three weeks: whole factors, points-per-game, speeding touchdowns and touchdowns.
Florida is 2-1, so hopefully, the sport will likely be thrilling. However these Gators are nonetheless determining who they’re beneath new head coach Billy Napier. If ever Tennessee had a window, that is it.
The one factor that would make a school soccer tailgate higher is that if that pregame celebration occurred on the water throughout 450 rafted-up boats — which is precisely what occurs on the Tennessee River earlier than soccer video games.
I am hoping I will have the possibility to tour a number of of the boats, possibly even go for a trip and see simply how this navy of Vols followers reveals out. This additionally may be the one time that the embarrassingly huge encyclopedia of cruising information I accrued rising up in New England may intersect with my precise job.
Being in Dolly Parton’s residence state
That is it. That is the entire thing.
I am a bit of confused as to how I have not been to Knoxville earlier than, as a result of not solely do they tailgate on the water, their mascot is an cute canine. The one factor I like greater than boats and canines is meals, and I hear town has some nice choices in that division, too. Unsure what extra a woman may ask for.
However again to Smokey. This cute Bluetick Coonhound — initially named Blue Smokey, after the mountains — has represented the Vols since 1953. Canines clearly don’t reside that lengthy, as a lot as we want they did, so we’re presently on Smokey X. Smokey X is passing the torch to Smokey XI this 12 months, and if I am fortunate, I would be capable of spend time with each.
There are statues of every Smokey dotted about Knoxville. I am not huge on statues of people as a result of I feel they at all times look a bit of unusual and are, as a rule, devoted to the unsuitable individuals. However in relation to statues of canines, I could not be extra in favor of a monument. The truth is, each metropolis ought to be stuffed with statues of canines. Canines are so good. Tennessee is aware of what’s up in relation to correctly remembering canines.
Sinan the Squirrel
Going actually heavy on the animals this week, however have you ever seen this man?
I’ve extra questions than solutions at this level, so I’ll simply say that if all the pieces goes nicely, I will be capable of report again.
I’ve at all times wished to see the checkerboard finish zones. Do you know it takes 120 gallons of orange and white paint to make them occur? This may even be one of many video games the place “Checker Neyland” is in full drive, the place the stadium gives t-shirts for every part in order that the group appears to be like like a checkerboard, too. Very into a powerful visible at a soccer sport.
I can not watch for Tennessee. However within the meantime, take a look at what I did at my final cease on the tour, in Austin for Texas vs. Alabama:
Frolicked with Massive Bertha, a 100-year-old drum:
Ate tacos with Reyna Vazquez, the founding father of Veracruz (finest breakfast tacos I’ve ever had):
And requested individuals why Arch Manning selected Texas over Bama:
Thanks, as at all times, for following my adventures on the earth of faculty soccer. It is such a privilege to carry you together with me.
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Charlotte Wilder is a common columnist and cohost of “The People’s Sports Podcast“for FOX Sports activities. She’s honored to characterize the consistently uncared for Boston space in sports activities media, loves speaking to sports activities followers about their emotions and is happiest consuming a hotdog in a ballpark or nachos in a stadium. Comply with her on Twitter @TheWilderThings.
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