(Photo via Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports)
Ten years ago, Tennessee was a day away from playing a heavily-favored Florida Gators football team down in Gainesville. The Vols were 30-point underdogs to the reigning national champions, and Heisman-hopeful quarterback Tim Tebow and the rest of the Gators were looking to demolish Tennessee.
Months earlier, then-Tennessee head coach Lane Kiffin had made a bold prediction about that game during his introductory press conference.
“We’ll be singing Rocky Top all night long after we beat Florida next year,” Kiffin claimed. “It’s going to be a blast, so get ready.”
While Kiffin’s prediction didn’t come true, Tennessee played the Gators much tougher than just about anyone expected. The No. 1 Gators never really could pull away from the massive underdogs, and the Vols ended up losing just 23-13 to Florida that day in The Swamp. Tennessee held Tebow without a passing touchdown for the first time in 30 games, and UT gave the Gators one of their toughest contests of the season.
This year, the Gators might not be the No. 1 team in the country, but they’re a top-10 team and are again hosting Tennessee in Gainesville this upcoming weekend. And, again, Florida is a heavy favorite. Despite losing starting quarterback Feleipe Franks for the season over the weekend, the Gators are still two touchdown favorites over the Vols.
And just like he did 10 years ago, Kiffin is predicting the Vols to shock the world.
Kiffin has gotten a lot of attention on social media today thanks to the publication of a compelling story by Chris Low of ESPN. Low interviewed Kiffin, several former Vol players, and others involved with Kiffin’s coaching staff or the administration at the time of Kiffin’s lone season as UT’s head coach, and the story details how Kiffin instilled confidence in his Tennessee team in that 2009 season — as well as Kiffin’s mistakes and ultimate departure from UT later on that year.
But there were plenty of high points in Kiffin’s one year at the helm of Tennessee’s football program, and it all started with that opening bold prediction.
Just like he did 10 years ago, Kiffin is again predicting the Vols to pull off the upset against Florida this weekend. Despite Tennessee’s rough 1-2 start to their 2019 season, Kiffin believes UT will overcome the obstacles and come away with their first victory in The Swamp since 2003.
Kiffin, who is now the head coach at Florida Atlantic University, gave his prediction for the game on Twitter on Wednesday. Shortly after Kiffin posted about Florida being added to FAU’s 2021 football schedule, he was asked by a Florida fan to give his prediction for Saturday’s contest between the Gators and Vols.
The former UT head coach went the bold route — as he often does — and picked Tennessee to pull off the upset.
Tennessee’s last victory in Gainesville came all the way back in 2003 — a 24-10 triumph led by quarterback Casey Clausen’s solid play and two rushing touchdowns by running back Jabari Davis. The Vols also won in 2001 in The Swamp, prevailing 34-32 in a game played on December 1st because of the events of 9/11 earlier in the year.
Since those back-to-back wins in The Swamp, Tennessee hasn’t won in Gainesville. Often, it hasn’t even been close.
The Vols were blown out 59-20 in Gainesville in 2007, lost by 10 in both 2009 and 2011, and lost by 14 points in 2013. Tennessee’s last two trips to The Swamp have seen more competitive contests, but both games ended in heartbreak for Vol fans.
In 2015, the Vols were up by two scores in the second half, but a busted fourth down coverage in the fourth quarter led to a 63-yard touchdown by Florida with 1:26 left on the clock. Tennessee would move down the field on their next possession, but a 55-yard field goal attempt went wide right by mere inches as time expired. In 2016, Tennessee again lost on a 63-yard pass play, this time from Feleipe Franks to Tyrie Cleveland as time expired. Franks heaved the pass into the end zone with no time left on the clock, and Cleveland came down with it much to the dismay of UT fans.
This year, Tennessee is a major underdog as they travel down to Florida for a noon kick-off in The Swamp. The 14-point spread is the largest underdog the Vols have been in the series since they were 16.5-point underdogs in 2013.
Despite the Gators being the big favorites and Tennessee getting off to a brutal start in 2019, Kiffin is still a believer in his former school. And Vol fans would love nothing more than to see his prediction come true.