published Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

Wiedmer: Not like old days, but Gators, Vols in Top 25

Things are looking up for Tennessee coach Derek Dooley and his team, but he and the Vols know there's a lot of season left to play.
Things are looking up for Tennessee coach Derek Dooley and his team, but he and the Vols know there's a lot of season left to play.
Photo by Patrick Smith /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE -- It may only have been Monday, but Tennessee football coach Derek Dooley was leaving nothing to chance regarding Saturday's visit from No. 18 Florida.

Referring to a fellow UT athletic department employee who Dooley believed already was struggling to maintain proper perspective, the third-year coach said, "[He's] already caught up in the external clutter. He's already lost focus."

Once was the time the Vols versus the Gators was the focus of the entire college football universe. From 1995 until this past season the game always was televised by either ABC or CBS, the last 16 times on the Giant Eye. Five of those were prime-time affairs.

Just as impressive is the fact that both teams were ranked in the top 10 in eight of those contests. On four occasions, both were ranked in the top five.

And just to prove the pollsters sometimes know their business, the higher ranked team has won 10 of those 17 meetings, though that's somewhat skewed by the Gators' seven straight wins, the last six of those coming as the favorites.

But for Volniacs looking for a reason to feel good about their No. 23 Clorox Orange warriors come 6 o'clock Saturday night, the lower ranked team won five of eight from 1995 to 2002. Beyond that, of UT's four wins in those 17 meetings, three came when Florida was ahead of them in the polls.

And despite ESPN televising this one instead of CBS, America's most bloated family of networks is giving the contest its top-drawer treatment by bringing "College GameDay" to Rocky Top for the first time since 2004.

(Never mind that Auburn won that one 34-10. The Vols shook off that disappointment well enough to reach that year's SEC title game, though they again fell to the Tigers.)

It's all become so exciting so quickly that redshirt freshman offensive tackle Kyler Kerbyson said of the upcoming pageantry, "When I saw 'GameDay' was coming, I got chills."

Yet the last four UT seasons and last two Florida campaigns also apparently have left a big chill in both programs' supporters.

First came news from UT in July that enough tickets remained for the Florida and Alabama games that the school was offering to package either of them with two other home games in something called the "Tennessee Triple Option" for the bargain price of $150 per ticket packet.

That was followed by last week's announcement that the Neyland Stadium concession stands were reducing certain items, cutting 20-ounce bottled water from $4 to $3 and slicing Domino's Pizza from $8.50 to $7.

Too bad your health care provider doesn't market his wares at Neyland.

But the most surprising news may have arrived Monday, when UT announced that "because a significant portion of the [Florida] allotment has been returned, tickets remain, including some lower-level tickets. Fans can purchase tickets by visiting UTTix.com or calling 1-800-332-VOLS."

Are you kidding me? Both the Vols and Gators are ranked and lower-level tickets remain? In the old days you would have been more likely to see UT coach Phillip Fulmer and Florida boss Steve Spurrier tailgating together than unsold tickets for the Third Saturday in September.

But these aren't those times. This time there are still tickets to be sold and fan bases to be won over and two opposing coaches who may indeed be former Nick Saban assistants but have thus far struggled to emulate Saint Nick's winning percentage.

Still, when speaking of second-year Florida coach Will Muschamp -- long a close Dooley friend -- the UT coach said, "Will's starting to get his team to look the way he wants them to look. They're starting to play Muschamp ball."

And the Vols presumably are starting to look the way Dooley wants them to look.

"We keep emphasizing coming out strong to start the second half, and we've done that the last two weeks," he said. "We just need to keep focusing on what we need to do and not all this external drama. GameDay's great. But these guys haven't come to Tennessee not to be on a big stage. The best exposure for this program is to win."

Otherwise, the external clutter will focus more and more on unsold tickets, discounted pizza slices and whether there needs to be a coaching change on Rocky Top.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6273.

about Mark Wiedmer...

Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...

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Livn4life said...

GameDay may be a big hype event but it is not helpful in keeping proper focus for the players. I know, I know, they SHOULD be able to maintain focus anyway. But the TN versus FL game alone is enough hype without all the other trappings. So we are only 4 days away now and we will see how far Dooley-ball has come. I for one am hoping we see the result many have looked for against the Gators the past few years. It is possible and many believe is likely to happen. I am hoping.

September 11, 2012 at 8:19 a.m.
JonathanMCook said...

Mark, I hate to beat a perverbal dead horse but as the saying goes its the economy stupid (not calling you or anyone else that but...). Here's the breakdown.

Factor 1: Both programs are for the most part a shell of their formal selves. Florida is still a well-respected program but has never fully regained that jauggernaut status back when Spurier was coach. Dooley is still rebuilding from the wake of Wreck It Kiffen.

Factor 2: Johnny and Jane VolFan could afford to go see UT-FL at the primo prices back when they were still making six figures and their McMansion was above water (money-wise). Obviously that is no longer the case.

Factor 3: (Big one) Technology. Why spend close to $200-$300 (tickets, concessions, parking [if you can find it]) for a family a four to attend the game live at Neyland Stadium in uncomfortable bleacher seats where you need binoculars to see the action vs. 50" HD TV set the takes you right to the field?

Factor 4: Alabama is now the golden child after their stomping of Michigan and people (even non-Alabama fans) want to see where they go in the season. Even this guy is looking forward to A&M vis Alabama this year.

Don't get me wrong, I'm still going to watch the game after the Mocs "practice" on Thursday Night before the big game next Saturday when Yoseff and Boone's Black and Gold come rolling into the 'Noog.

September 11, 2012 at 9:55 a.m.
Stewwie said...

Absolutely right, JMC. It's bad when the university thinks that $150 for three games is a great deal...especially when one of those three games is an easy win (i.e. Georgia State). Couple that with the other costs you mentioned and it adds up. Attendance for other sports is affected in a similar way.

September 11, 2012 at 11:16 a.m.
JonathanMCook said...

Just one other piece to tack on. Its the same with pro sports as well. While the Cowboys down here aren't hurting charging more for a single game ticket that can sometimes be the equivelent of a weeks income for me, the sports writers for the DMN have made it clear it is more cost effective to simply buy a modern 50" and you get a better quality product.

but nothing beats a live Texas Rangers game though. ^_~

September 11, 2012 at 11:35 a.m.
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