The Ultimate College Football Road Trip takes on Tennessee

By Charlotte Wilder
FOX Sports activities Columnist  

Tennessee vs. Florida is all the time an enormous deal for Vol Nation.

Together with Alabama, the Gators are the Volunteers’ greatest rivals, to the purpose the place Tennesseeans make a degree to cook dinner and eat alligators when Florida is on the town. I respect the dedication to the bit. And since I’m heading to Knoxville this week forward of this matchup, I’ll should attempt it (there’s a primary for all the things).  

However this 12 months, the rivalry takes on new which means. As a result of in 2022, Tennessee is definitely good. In truth, Tennessee is so good that it’s undefeated and presently ranked No. 11 within the nation. That is the Vols’ greatest begin since going 5-0 in 2016 (which, I’m informed, was six years in the past, however feels prefer it was at the least 15).

This 12 months is decidedly completely different, and I’ll attempt to not jinx it as I clarify why. Final 12 months, the Vols went 7–6 total and 4–4 in-conference beneath first-year head coach Josh Heupel. The 12 months earlier than that, they went 3-7. The 12 months earlier than that, they went 8-5. You get the image. The final nationwide championship win for Tennessee got here in 1998, which was — wanna really feel outdated? — a number of years earlier than many of the gamers on this 12 months’s crew had been born. 

So that is the primary time shortly that almost all school soccer followers shall be paying shut consideration to this traditional SEC combat as the sport kicks off on Saturday. And I’m fortunate sufficient to absorb the total expertise beginning on Wednesday.

I’ll inform you what I’m wanting ahead to whereas I’m on the town, however I’d actually love your enter. The place does our crew should eat whereas we’re in Knoxville? What landmark can’t I miss? Who’s the most important tremendous fan you recognize? 

Tweet at me or discover me on Instagram, as a result of I need to see the Tennessee that you just see. I would like the within scoop. 

The precise soccer  

Since 2004, the Volunteers have solely defeated Florida as soon as.  

As soon as! In 18 years! That’s the identical age as among the gamers on the crew! My goodness!  

That singular win got here in 2016. So it’s protected to say that everybody in Knoxville might use a W in opposition to the Gators. And as I made clear above, that is the primary 12 months the place it appears like there’s an opportunity. The Vols’ QB, Hendon Hooker, not solely has the perfect title for a Tennessee quarterback, however he additionally has the perfect arm. It’s his sixth 12 months in a school program … 

… and he’s been main the Vols to assertion wins. A number of of Tennessee’s offensive crew stats rank within the prime 10 within the nation throughout the season’s first three weeks: complete factors, points-per-game, dashing touchdowns and touchdowns.

Florida is 2-1, so hopefully, the sport shall be thrilling. However these Gators are nonetheless determining who they’re beneath new head coach Billy Napier. If ever Tennessee had a window, that is it.

Vol Navy  

The solely factor that would make a school soccer tailgate higher is that if that pregame celebration befell on the water throughout 450 rafted-up boats — which is precisely what occurs on the Tennessee River earlier than soccer video games.  

I’m hoping I’ll have the prospect to tour a number of of the boats, possibly even go for a journey and see simply how this navy of Vols followers exhibits out. This additionally is perhaps the one time that the embarrassingly huge encyclopedia of sailing information I accrued rising up in New England may intersect with my precise job. 

Being in Dolly Parton’s residence state

That’s it. That’s the entire thing. 

Smokey 

I’m a bit confused as to how I haven’t been to Knoxville earlier than, as a result of not solely do they tailgate on the water, their mascot is an lovely canine. The solely factor I like greater than boats and canine is meals, and I hear town has some nice choices in that division, too. Unsure what extra a lady might ask for. 

However again to Smokey. This lovely Bluetick Coonhound — initially named Blue Smokey, after the mountains — has represented the Vols since 1953. Canines clearly don’t stay that lengthy, as a lot as we want they did, so we’re presently on Smokey X. Smokey X is passing the torch to Smokey XI this 12 months, and if I’m fortunate, I would be capable to spend time with each. 

There are statues of every Smokey dotted about Knoxville. I’m not large on statues of people as a result of I feel they all the time look a bit unusual and are, most of the time, devoted to the flawed folks. However in terms of statues of canine, I couldn’t be extra in favor of a monument. In truth, each metropolis ought to be crammed with statues of canine. Canines are so good. Tennessee is aware of what’s up in terms of correctly remembering canines.

Sinan the Squirrel  

Going actually heavy on the animals this week, however have you ever seen this man?

I’ve extra questions than solutions at this level, so I’ll simply say that if all goes nicely, I’ll be capable to report again. 

Neyland Stadium 

I’ve all the time needed to see the checkerboard finish zones. Do you know it takes 120 gallons of orange and white paint to make them occur? This will even be one of many video games the place “Checker Neyland” is in full pressure, the place the stadium supplies t-shirts for every part in order that the group seems to be like a checkerboard, too. Very into a powerful visible at a soccer sport. 

I can’t anticipate Tennessee. However within the meantime, try what I did at my final cease on the tour, in Austin for Texas vs. Alabama:

Frolicked with Large Bertha, a 100-year-old drum:

Ate tacos with Reyna Vazquez, the founding father of Veracruz (greatest breakfast tacos I’ve ever had):

And requested folks why Arch Manning selected Texas over Bama:

Thanks, as all the time, for following my adventures on this planet of school soccer. It’s such a privilege to convey you together with me. 

Charlotte Wilder is a common columnist and cohost of “The People’s Sports Podcast” for FOX Sports activities. She’s honored to symbolize the consistently uncared for Boston space in sports activities media, loves speaking to sports activities followers about their emotions and is happiest consuming a hotdog in a ballpark or nachos in a stadium. Comply with her on Twitter @TheWilderThings.


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