KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- It's impossible to talk about Saturday's game here between the Florida Gators and Tennessee Volunteers without a nod to the past -- in reality, a recent past, but one that feels very distant.
A decade or so ago, this was the pre-eminent game in the league, with the brash Steve Spurrier often jabbing at nice-guy coach Phillip Fulmer. The winner always played for the conference championship, often winning it.
That was four Gators coaches ago, although Urban Meyer did win two national titles in his stay. And it was two Volunteers coaches ago, although Lane Kiffin only stuck around for one season.
Things have changed, sure. New buildings and greenspace dot an evolving Tennessee campus, one that looked a lot different when "GameDay" was last in town for Florida-Tennessee in 2004.
Are these national-title contenders like they were then? Sure doesn't look that way. But Florida-Tennessee again means something, even if a lean weekend in college football -- and Arkansas' stunning loss last week to Louisiana-Monroe -- has pushed them up onto the pedestal.
How big is this game in Knoxville? In addition to the "GameDay" crew being here, people are nervous. A win and Tennessee will begin to feel as if it's again up there with division elite Georgia and South Carolina. A loss, and it's a retreat to the self-doubt that has enveloped the fan base the past few seasons, including losing years in 2008 (Fulmer's last) and 2010 and 2011 (Derek Dooley's first two). For a talented but unproven team with a four-game stretch in two weeks of road games at Georgia and Mississippi State, home against Alabama and at South Carolina, that is a huge difference.
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