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Mistakes bury Tennessee as Florida tops Vols for 13th time in 14 tries

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They honored Tennessee’s 1998 national championship team at Neyland Stadium on Saturday night. And why wouldn’t they pick tonight of all nights? It’s been 20 years, after all, and the Tennessee-Florida game was almost always the game of the year in the SEC in the 1990’s. Remember, it was a 20-17 overtime win for the No. 6 Volunteers over No. 2 Florida that set Phillip FulmerTee MartinPeerless Price and company on their way to the first BCS crown.

But the fact that the ’98 Vols were in the house quickly became kind of a macabre joke, because Tennessee has never looked further away from a national title than it did on Saturday night.

Five turnovers did the Vols in, as unranked Florida cruised to a 47-21 win over unranked-and-going-to-stay-that-way-for-a-while Tennessee.

The mistakes started immediately for Tennessee. On the Vols’ first drive of the game, Jarrett Guarantano was sacked and fumbled, which Florida’s David Reese II recovered and returned to the UT 21. Felepie Franks put the Gators up 7-0 four plays later when he hit R.J. Raymond for a 1-yard toss.

On Tennessee’s next possession, Guarantano was intercepted by Luke Ancrum at his own 12, which he returned to the 7. Franks rushed in from one yard out two plays later, handing Florida a 14-0 lead.

Dear reader, this was just the beginning.

A safety handed Florida (3-1, 1-1 SEC) a 16-3 lead and, after the free kick, Franks found Freddie Swan for a 65-yard score, effectively ending the game at 23-3 with 10:42 to play in the second quarter.

Tennessee (2-2, 0-1 SEC) appeared to be in position to pull back within two scores when, on a 4th-and-1 from their own 45, Guarantano found a wide open tight end Austin Pope for a 51-yard connection. But as Pope leaped to avoid a tackle near the goal line, he lost control of the ball, which then rolled out of the end zone, turning a 1st-and-goal into a touchback.

Florida punted on the ensuing possession and Tennessee again moved into scoring territory, facing a 3rd-and-11 at the Florida 23, but a botched shotgun snap ended a second straight promising drive in a fumble.

Florida drove 66 yards at the close of the half to add a 25-yard Evan McPherson field goal to close the first half with a 26-3 lead.

Tennessee accepted the ball to open the second half, and Shawn Shamburger fumbled the return, handing Florida its fifth takeaway of the game. Jordan Scarlett punched in a 19-yard touchdown run one play later.

After a field goal, Guarantano tossed his second of two interceptions — and Tennessee’s sixth turnover — but Florida didn’t cash in this time.

The Gators didn’t need to, though. The score was 33-6 at that point, and Tennessee never pulled within 19 points in the second half.

Florida beat Tennessee for the 13th time in the pair’s last 14 games, and moved its all-time lead to 28-20. Florida is 26-7 against Tennessee since 1976.

Franks closed the night hitting 10-of-19 passes for 172 yards with three touchdowns, while Scarlett’s 11 carries for 77 yards led all runners.

Guarantano, meanwhile, completed 7-of-18 passes for 163 yards with no touchdowns and three turnovers.

It would be comforting to say the road gets easier for Tennessee, but it would be wrong. The Vols’ next three games: at No. 2 Georgia, at No. 9 Auburn and vs. No. 1 Alabama.

Nick Saban’s hip-replacement surgery scheduled for Monday

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We already knew that one of the greatest college football coaches in the history of the game was set to undergo a rather invasive medical procedure. Now, we know exactly when it’ll take place.

This past weekend, Nick Saban confirmed that he’ll have hip-replacement surgery at an unspecified time this offseason. Friday, USA Today was the first to report a specific date as the Alabama head coach is set to go under the knife this coming Monday. According to the Tuscaloosa News, the surgery will be performed that morning by Dr. Lyle Cain of Andrews Sports Medicine & Orthopaedic Center.

The procedure is expected to sideline Saban for a period of 6-8 weeks, a timeline that will allow the coach plenty of time to recuperate and rehabilitate ahead of the start of summer camp in early August.

That said, Saban’s biggest concern involves a sport that’s not football.

“The only thing I hate about it is, I’ll have to not play golf for six weeks or so,” Saban told USA Today. “… But this is the best time for me to do it. I do a lot of speaking and evaluating and film work and stuff like that, but we’re not practicing. Other than playing golf, I probably wouldn’t be very active. So this is the best time, and then it gives me a lot of summer to get back in shape.”

The 67-year-old Saban will be entering his 12th season with the Crimson Tide in 2019. “I don’t want to coach for one more year. I want to coach for a lot of more years,” the future College Football Hall of Famer said in explaining his decision to undergo the surgery at this point in time.

Jacksonville Jaguars taking over Gator Bowl operations as game faces financial difficulties

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NFL teams owning (or providing significant assistance) to a bowl game is nothing new in this day and age but you can add another to the list of operators as the Gator Bowl has turned to the Jacksonville Jaguars in an effort to cut costs and help save the 75-year-old postseason game for several more years.

The Jacksonville Daily Record first made note of the moves, which were announced at the Jaguars’ annual state of the franchise presentation on Thursday. The team will formally take over “ticket sales and back shop operations.” The Florida Times Union also provided more context on the moves, which note that contracts expire after the upcoming game on everything from the TV deal with ESPN to title game sponsorship agreement.

“We’re in negotiations now for everything,” said Gator Bowl CEO Rick Catlett. “We got a good deal overall with the city [on the stadium], but not a great deal. We got to get the city to give us the same deal as Georgia-Florida with rent, concessions and parking. “We have to step up our game. We’re not going to be the Poulan Weed-Eater [Independence] Bowl. My instructions from our board is to move it forward or we’re done.”

Ticket sales and local revenue dropping were cited as the most pressing concerns to the financial health of the bowl, which is one of the oldest in the sport and has been held continuously since 1946.

It will be interesting to see if these financial trends continue for both the Gator Bowl and others at large. We’ve seen more and more bowl games get added to the docket in college football over the years but one of the mainstays to the lineup facing such challenges could be a warning that the system in the College Football Playoff era isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Five college football officials joining NFL ranks for 2019 season

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The NFL draft is this week and hundreds of college football players will formally be making the jump to the pros as a result. They won’t be the only ones going from Saturday’s to Sunday’s this fall however.

Per the NFL’s Twitter account dedicated to all matters officiating, five officials from the college ranks are being bumped up to crews in the league:

All five of the college football officials were part of the NFL’s Officiating Development Program according to Football Zebras. The Memphis Commercial Appeal also notes that the five were also involved as officials in the now-defunct Alliance of American Football this spring. Based on that, it’s pretty clear that the group as a whole was really focused on moving up to the NFL at some point and now get the call up to the big leagues.

Florida, Texas reportedly planning home-and-home series

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Could it be? Could Florida actually leave the Sunshine State for a big non-conference game?

It might just be in the works.

In a nugget slipped into his column this week, plugged-in Austin American-Statesman writer Kirk Bohls notes that Texas and Florida are apparently working on a home-and-home series between the two very successful programs. Don’t get your hopes up just yet however — not just because the pairing might not happen but because it’s going to happen in the very distant future of 2030 and 2031.

We’re always supportive of big home-and-home matchups but like many out there wish things were a little closer than 11 years from now.

More notable than the date though is the fact that the Gators might actually leave the state for a true road game. That hasn’t happened in ages. Literally.

The last non-conference true road game that Florida played outside of the friendly confines of their own state came all the way back in 1991 against Syracuse (they lost). The Gators have typically stuck to lower level FCS/Group of Five opponents at home while also playing in-state rivals like USF, Miami and, of course, Florida State to fill out their non-conference slate.

That might all be about to change however as the team discusses things with the Longhorns. Let’s all hope that for the first time in 40 years that UF decides a non-conference road game might finally be worth it.