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SEC rivalry. Pointed words. Brash upstarts versus proven champions. Alleged recruiting violations. The No. 1 team in the land. Arguably the best offensive player in the land. Arguably the best defensive player in the land.
Saturday's Tennessee versus Florida game in Gainesville doesn't lack for storylines. In fact, the plot is likely to be much better than the game. Nevertheless, Page 2 fearlessly breaks down the key matchups for the Skirmish in the Swamp.
Long considered one of the best defensive minds in football, Volunteers defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin is the patriarch of the bend-but-don't-break Tampa 2 defense popularized by the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who under Kiffin finished in the top 10 in points allowed and yards allowed 10 times and won Super Bowl XXXVII in 2003.
Head coach Lane Kiffin, Monte's son, has a bachelor's degree in leisure service management from Fresno State.
Head coach Urban Meyer is best known for (a) turning down the head-coaching position at Notre Dame and (b) winning two national championships since turning down the head-coaching position at Notre Dame -- two facts that couldn't possibly be related. Meyer is far less known for playing two seasons in the Atlanta Braves' farm system, which is why he played only two seasons.
Tim Tebow versus Eric Berry: Tebow has thrown 11 career interceptions. Berry, Tennessee's ball hawk defensive back, has caught one of them. In 2007, as a freshman, he picked off a Tebow pass and returned it 96 yards for a touchdown. It's the only pick-six of Tebow's career, and the Gators quarterback missed a tackle on the play. Oh and Tennessee lost that game 59-20. The lesson? It's not that Tebow is inaccurate or a poor tackler. It's that he is all-merciful.
Lane Kiffin's Mouth versus Lane Kiffin's Mouth: Originally, Kiffin's mouth promised to sing "Rocky Top" all night long after beating Florida. Later, Kiffin's mouth said Florida was "maybe the most talented team ever" and that all 11 starting Gators defenders were future NFL players. Originally, Kiffin's mouth called Meyer a recruiting cheat. Later, Kiffin's mouth apologized for calling Meyer a recruiting cheat. Something has to give.
Urban Meyer's sportsmanship versus his desire to double the point spread: In 2007, Georgia's entire team celebrated a touchdown by leaving its sideline and massing in the end zone. Last year, Florida beat Georgia 49-10, with Meyer coaching for more points late in the game. Incidentally, Saturday's spread has risen to 30.
Layla Kiffin, Lane's wife. Really. You should keep your eye on her.
Tebow. The non-unanimous preseason All-SEC quarterback is looking to make the last year of his life under center a memorable one.
Punter Chad Cunningham (49.7 yards per punt) is ready for a breakout performance. Running backs Montario Hardesty and Bryce Brown will be asked to prevent turnovers by falling on the ball while being tackled in the backfield. If quarterback Jonathan Crompton can ignore pressure and consistently stop, drop and roll instead of assuming the fetal position -- exposing his back to helmet-on-vertebrae spearing -- he should be able to leave the stadium under his own power.
Expect the Gators' second- and third-stringers to be energized and motivated by the prospect of extensive playing time. Difficult decisions Meyer faces: how to avoid destroying the sod in the end zones; whether to allow the mascot to kick an extra point; when to have Tebow remove his jersey and pads for an in-game national magazine photo shoot. For Tennessee, Berry may be the best defensive player in the nation. Unfortunately, there will be 10 other men on the field.
Tennessee's fearless squad is quick to bounce back after mistakes and does not care what the rest of the world thinks, as evidenced by a shirtless "Wild Boys" team photo shoot featuring chains and a burnt orange Lamborghini.
Last season, Tebow's inspirational words helped spur the Gators to their second BCS championship in three seasons. This season, he vindicated his teammates after it was reported the Gators have had at least 25 players arrested since Meyer became coach in 2005: "It hasn't been guys on purpose trying to do bad stuff."
Recruiting: Saturday is just one battle in the war. Recruiting will determine who wins ultimately. And Tennessee has a commitment from Berry's 13-year-old younger brother. So although Florida may win and win big Saturday, Tennessee's midget squad would totally crush the Gators' midget squad. Don't think the Tebow family will rescue you, Florida. Tim is the youngest of five children.
Line of scrimmage: Florida has 11 players on defense who could play in the NFL, according to Lane Kiffin. Meantime, Tennessee was stopped last week in the closing minutes on a fourth-and-2 by UCLA. Advantage: Florida. Still, Tennessee might be able to create confusion and misdirection if it employs fog machines in the backfield.
Emotion: The team that wants it more often wins this kind of game. Although Meyer will have his team fired up, screaming and yelling is old hat in football. Coaches scream and yell from biddy football on up. Kiffin brings something different. As his wife says, Kiffin "cries in the girl movies." Chances are he'll set his pregame speech to the music of The Fray and talk about life and love. Then his players will go out onto the field and hit harder than ever, hoping to knock the image of their weeping coach out of their minds.
Rep. Corrine Brown
The mind of Lane Kiffin works in mysterious ways.
Tennessee 45, No. 1 Florida 10.