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As measuring stick, Vols now useless to UF

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — C'mon, Tennessee.

Brandon Spikes didn't really mean it. He wasn't calling you guys quitters.

Please get up. Hold on to the football. Hit somebody like you mean it.

Ah, forget it.

The test scheduled for the University of Florida in September has been canceled due to a lack of participants. Turns out, there were no suitable Volunteers to be found.

For now, you must take it on faith that the Gators are national championship contenders. They certainly look the part. They've beaten Hawaii, Miami and Tennessee by a combined 112-19.

The offense has as much speed as ever, the special teams are ridiculously good and the defense has begun strutting like the old days. So, yeah, there's plenty of reason to believe.

It's just that you won't truly know until Florida plays a legitimate Top 25 team. Maybe even a top 50 team. Because, as it turns out, the Vols were not the test you thought they might be. They were barely a pop quiz.

So now you wait. You dilly with Ole Miss, and you dally with Arkansas. And you stare at the Oct. 11 game against LSU at Florida Field as the first real indication of whether the Gators will play for the Southeastern Conference championship, or even the BCS title.

And, in the meantime, you try to dissect Urban Meyer's words. You hear the Florida coach talk about the maturity of this team. Of the importance of playing smart on the road, as the Gators did Saturday.

You hear him make a very vague comparison to his second season in Gainesville, when the Gators won the 2006 national championship, and you wonder how high his confidence is today.

"Our first team? We were not a good football team. We had some good players, but we embarrassed ourselves on the road," Meyer said. "Our second year, we were a very good team. A very good team. Very good chemistry, good toughness when we went on the road. Our third year? Not very good. Very young, immature, bad chemistry, not a good team. Good players, but everybody has good players.

"This one? Showed a little toughness right there."

For now, that's as far as Meyer is willing to go. Which is as it should be. Because, even though there were 106,138 people at Neyland Stadium on Saturday, the Gators were not treated to a real dose of UT football.

The offensive line was not very powerful, and the players were not very disciplined. The crowd was booing by the end of the second quarter and was heading for the exits by the end of the third.

The Vols were supposedly upset when Spikes recently suggested Tennessee quit in the waning moments of last season's game. Maybe they didn't quit on Saturday, but it didn't really matter.

The truth is beating Tennessee isn't much of a barometer anymore. Back in the '90s, back when UT had just as many big names as Florida, the winner of this game always seemed to be going places.

The Gators beat the Vols seven times between 1993 and 2000, and went to the SEC Championship Game in six of those seasons. Back then, beating Tennessee was some kind of an omen. Nowadays, whipping UT is about as relevant as beating South Carolina or Kentucky.

This was the first time since 1984 that Tennessee was unranked when playing Florida. And the result wasn't just ugly, it was kind of sad.

Tim Tebow had his least productive passing day (96 yards) as a starter, and it didn't matter. The Vols outgained Florida (258 yards to 243), and it didn't matter. The Gators had one offensive play of more than 20 yards, and it didn't matter.

"Tim was 8-of-15? We've got to work on that. … He's not very good," Meyer said, with tongue in cheek. "We're going to open our quarterback battle up."

If nothing else, Florida's defense continues to show signs that it has grown up. Even with all of the injuries during the summer, even with seven sophomores in the starting lineup, the Gators have shown a swagger and attitude that seemed missing in 2007.

"We just made a statement that the tradition of Florida defense is back," Spikes said Saturday.

Are the Gators all the way back?

You'll just have to keep studying them until a real test comes along.

John Romano can be reached at (727) 893-8811.

As measuring stick, Vols now useless to UF 09/20/08 [Last modified: Monday, September 22, 2008 11:31am]

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