From promising to sing Rocky Top all night long after beating the Gators in Gainesville to mistakenly accusing coach Urban Meyer of recruiting violations, first-year Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin has said plenty about Florida.
In the process, he's made himself public enemy No. 1 with Florida fans who have had Sept. 19 circled on their calendars for at least seven months.
But as No. 1 Florida (2-0) and unranked Tennessee (1-1) prepare for Saturday's SEC opener at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, players and coaches on both sides are downplaying the significance of the bad blood that's been brewing since Kiffin took over in December.
"To me, that's water under the bridge a long time ago," Meyer said. "We're going to try to move the ball against a very good Tennessee defense - and our guys understand that - and contain two good backs. No, that has nothing to do with this."
The Vols enter the game off a 19-15 home loss to UCLA and with their quarterback reeling from three interceptions. So needless to say, Kiffin said the perceived bad blood between he and Meyer is the last thing on his mind and will have no bearing on this game.
"I don't think it does," he said when asked if his comments have any impact on an already hostile rivalry. "I think that you've got a big-time rivalry game and two teams with great traditions. You've got one team that's the most talented in the country, maybe ever. So they have a ton to play for. They are playing to go to their third, to win their third or fourth national championship. I can't imagine they need any motivation."
There was a time, not so long ago, when Florida players and coaches were using Kiffin's comments for extra motivation. At one point there were signs in the weight room adorned with Kiffin's comments. But this week it seems nearly everybody on the Gators roster is trying to downplay the situation.
"I haven't really paid too much attention to it," senior quarterback Tim Tebow said. "We get asked a lot about it, and it's on TV and everything. But honestly, in the recruiting process I had respect for him and I knew him as a person and I know he's doing a great job there and he's just trying to fire up his team and all their fans.
"That's not going to add anything or detract anything from our rivalry, how intense the game is or how big of a game it will be for me."
Tennessee junior All-America safety Eric Berry said Tuesday Kiffin's bold entrance into the SEC wouldn't be the way he would approach it, but he understands what his new coach was trying to accomplish.
"I wouldn't call out anybody or anything like that, but it did help us from a team standpoint as far as how we bought into what he had to do and what he brought into this program,'' Berry said.
Now it's finally time to face the Gators. The Vols are 28-1/2-point underdogs and longtime UT coach Phillip Fulmer, who retired last season, knows how hard it is to win on the road in the SEC - even if you haven't made the opponent angry. He said Kiffin now needs to understand that his actions may have consequences - on the field.
"You know, everybody has to choose to do things their way," said Fulmer, now a studio analyst with CBS Sports. "We were very pleased what we were able to accomplish the majority of our time at Tennessee. And we did it without having to be brash and so on. This is his style, the way he chose to do it. It's his turn to do it as he thinks he needs to do it. The problem in this league, you are going to play great football teams every week once you get into the SEC schedule and if you are going to be brash, you better be able to back it up."
Antonya English can be reachedat firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3389. Follow her blog at blogs.tampabay.com/gators.
T-SHIRTS FOR SALE
Front: "Memo to Lane Kiffin", and the back concludes "Be Scared. Very Scared. The beatdown is near. 9-19-09."
* * *
The quotable Lane Kiffin:
"I'm really looking forward to embracing some of the great traditions at the University of Tennessee. For instance the Vol Walk, running through the T, singing Rocky Top all night long after we beat Florida next year. It will be a blast."
"I'm gonna turn Florida in right here in front of you. While Nu'Keese (Richardson) was on campus, his phone kept ringing. One of the coaches says, 'Who's that?' And he said, 'Urban Meyer.' Just so you know when a recruit is on another campus you can't call him. ... But I love the fact that Urban had to cheat and still didn't get him."
"I think it's pretty neat that the Tennessee 'T' is in the Florida locker room. As recruits go through there visiting, they get to see our Tennessee 'T.' So I guess you call it free advertising."
"I would think Florida is not worried one bit about us. We were 5-7, and they're the powerful Florida Gators, and we're just trying to play in the same conference as them. With all the great players, they'll win another national championship, and (quarterback Tim Tebow) will win another Heisman. I'm serious about that. I really believe that."
* * *
View an audio slideshow previewing the Florida-Tennessee game, then join Antonya English fort a live chat Thursday fron noon to 1 p.m., at gators.tamapabay.com.
* * *
"Yeah, sure it does. And some 44-year-olds, too."
Florida coach Urban Meyer, when asked if Kiffin's comments could motivate his players. At the time, Meyer was 44.