Prediction Panel: No. 6 Florida vs Tennessee

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    (Photo via Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics)

    Tennessee welcomes No. 6 Florida to Neyland Stadium on Saturday afternoon in Knoxville.

    While the Gators are pushing for a spot in the college football playoffs, the Vols are looking to snap a five-game losing streak. Florida would clinch the SEC East with their fourth-straight win over Tennessee. It would be their 15th win in the last 16 meetings between the two teams.

    December games are rare for Tennessee’s football program. This will be just UT’s 34th regular season game played during the month of December and the first since Dec. 1, 2001, a game that was rescheduled following the events of 9/11. The Vols defeated No. 2 Florida, 34-32, in Gainesville that day.

    Tennessee has been very successful in December regular season games all-time, only losing three games. The Vols are 29-3-1 in the final month of the season.

    Managing editor Ben McKee, as well as RTI contributors Blake Von Hagen and Noah Taylor share their predictions for the Vols’ matchup with the Gators.

    Ben’s Pick

    There’s a formula to beating Florida. Unfortunately for the Vols, however, they don’t have the ingredients to take advantage of that recipe.

    Tennessee will look to control time of possession and keep Heisman hopeful Kyle Trask off the field as much as possible. Eric Gray and the offensive line will need to have a productive day against a shaky Florida defense in order to do so. It’ll also take pressure off of true freshman quarterback Harrison Bailey who will “definitely” play this week according to Jeremy Pruitt.

    Florida ultimately has too many pieces on offense for the Vols to overcome and there’s not an indication that the Vols have the pass rush or pieces in the secondary to slow them down. There’s also little hope that the offense can put up enough points to keep up with the Gators.

    Pick: Florida, 52-17

    MVP: Florida tight end Kyle Pitts

    Florida tight end Kyle Pitts is a nightmare matchup for any team in the country. Especially for a defense that doesn’t have a single player it can line him up against and have just a little bit of confidence in. Pitts caught three touchdowns last week against Kentucky in return from injury. There’s a good chance he does it again against the Vols.

    Blake’s Pick

    Florida might have this 17.5-point spread covered by halftime. The Gators will be looking for a better offensive performance in the first half this week after they got off to a slow start against Kentucky last week. They have a chance to clinch a berth in the SEC Championship game and should be fully focused with this being a rivalry matchup. Tennessee has not shown many positive signs over the last month and has failed to cover the spread in each of its last five games.

    Trask is going to have a ton of success against the Vols’ secondary. It’s hard to trust Tennessee’s offense to move the ball right now, regardless of who starts at quarterback. The history points to Florida and the current trajectory of both teams also gives the nod to the Gators. It’s tough to imagine this being a competitive game.

    Pick: Florida, 38-13

    MVP: Florida quarterback Kyle Trask

    Mac Jones padded his Heisman stats in the second half of the Iron Bowl last week. Look for Dan Mullen to allow Trask to do the same thing in this game.

    Noah’s Pick

    Florida’s defense has struggled throughout most of the 2020 season, but the Gators’ offense, led by Heisman front-runner Kyle Trask, has put them in position in most games to overcome those struggles.

    For that reason, I think Tennessee will be able to get some first half scores, but if Florida’s defense plays like it did in the second half against Kentucky last week, 2-3 stops could be enough for Trask and the offense to get multiple scores ahead, which outside of their lone loss to Texas A&M, has been the Gators forte in 2020.

    Florida’s receiving corps is a mismatch nightmare for most teams they’ve faced this season, with players like Kadarius Toney, Trevon Grimes and Kyle Pitts presenting different challenges. Throw in a pair of running backs who have proven to be a threat catching the ball out of the backfield in Malik Davis and Damion Peirce and Trask has a plethora of options to get the ball out to.

    As big of a headache as Florida’s offense could prove for Tennessee, the Vols offense may have some trouble as well if the Gators do what they did against Kentucky. After getting gashed in the first half against the Wildcats run game, Florida snuffed them out in the second half, forcing Kentucky to throw the ball more which led to a pair of turnovers and a second-half shutout in a 34-10 win.

    Pick: Florida, 42-21

    MVP: Florida tight end Kyle Pitts