For SEC foes, ’09 battle cry is ‘Chomp or be chomped’

Monday, August 3, 2009 at 12:00am

Other than the Gator nation, no SEC football team wants to see Florida at the top of 2009 college football heap.

Florida may be the defending national champion and the choice of many to win it again, but for those who will face the Gators this fall, there exists the possibility to experience a thrill similar to that of winning a title.

Last season’s thrill seeker, Ole Miss, was the only team to defeat Florida in 2008. The Rebels’ 31-30 victory not only snapped a lengthy conference losing streak, it also created momentum which helped them win their final six games and to start this season as a Top 10 team.

“That game gave us confidence,” coach Houston Nutt said. “It gave us genuine confidence that we can win. To see a celebrating locker room like that, it was awesome.

“Once we came together as a team, it really fell back to Florida. That Florida game …gave us the confidence that we could beat anybody if we have 11 guys doing it the right way.”

Tennessee will be the first SEC team this fall to get a crack at the Gators — with quarterback Tim Tebow back for his senior season — when the teams meet in Gainesville during the third weekend in September.

The Volunteers are winless against UF during Tebow’s career and have dropped four straight overall. Since a 21-20 defeat in 2006, Tennessee has been outscored a combined 89-35 in the last two meetings.

“I have great respect for Florida, what they've done there,” UT coach Lane Kiffin said. “I would think Florida is not worried one bit about us. We (went) 5-7 (last season). They're the powerful Gators. We're just trying to play in the same conference as them.”

Vanderbilt does not get its chance until early November — also in Gainesville.

The Commodores, likewise, are 0-for-Tebow and have dropped 18 straight to the Gators. Similar to UT, Vanderbilt was close in 2006 (25-19) but has lost the last two by a combined 91-36.

“They got a chance to be pretty good,” coach Bobby Johnson joked about Florida during last month’s SEC media days. “Obviously they got a great program, and have for years and years and years. You expect them to be one of the top teams in the country, especially with the people they've got going back, and especially with a proven quarterback.”

— David Boclair