Pa Charlotte Wilder
FOX sports commentator
Together with Alabama, alligators are the volunteers’ biggest competitors, to the point that Tennessee residents tend to cook and eat alligators when Florida is in town. I respect the commitment to the beat. And since I’m headed to Knoxville this week before this matchmaybe I’ll have to give it a try (there’s a first option for everything).
But this year, the rivalry takes on a new meaning. Because in 2022, Tennessee is really good. In fact, Tennessee is yes good thing he’s undefeated and ranked No. 11 in the country. This is the Vols’ best start since going 5-0 in 2016 (I’m told that was six years ago, but it feels like at least 15).
This year is clearly different, and I’ll try not to do that by explaining why. The Vols went 7–6 overall and 4–4 in conference play last year under first-year coach Josh Heupel. The year before that, they went 3-7. Last year that they went 8-5. You will get a picture. Tennessee’s last national championship victory was in 1998, and it was — wanna feel old? — several years before most of the players on this year’s team were born.
So it’s the first time in a while that most college football fans will be paying close attention to this classic SEC battle when play begins on Saturday. And I was lucky enough to get all the opportunities starting on Wednesday.
I’ll tell you what I’m looking forward to while I’m in town, but I’d really like your input. Where does our team eat while we are in Knoxville? What attraction can’t I miss? Who is the biggest fan you know?
Since 2004, the Volunteers have beaten Florida just once.
Once! At 18 years old! This is the age of some team players! My God!
This unique victory took place in 2016. So it’s safe to say that anyone in Knoxville can use a W against the Gators. And as I said above, this is the first year it seems like there’s a chance. QB The Vols, Hendon Hooker, not only has the best name for a Tennessee quarterback, he also has the best arm. This is his sixth year of college…
… and he led the Vols to victories. Several of Tennessee’s offensive stats rank in the top 10 in the nation through the first three weeks of the season: total points, points per game, rushing touchdowns and passing yards.
Florida is 2-1 so hopefully it will be an exciting game. But these Gators are still figuring out who they are under new head coach Billy Napier. If ever there was a window in Tennessee, this is it.
Ox of the Navy
The only thing that would improve college football’s tailgate is if this pregame celebration took place on the water in 450 dinghies — which is exactly what happens on the Tennessee River before football games.
I’m hoping to get a chance to check out a few boats, maybe even take a ride and see what this fleet of Vols fans looks like. It may also be the only time the embarrassingly vast encyclopedia of boating knowledge I’ve accumulated growing up in New England intersects with my actual work.
While in Dolly Parton’s home state
That’s all. That’s the whole point.
I’m a little confused as to why I haven’t been to Knoxville before because not only do they walk on water, but their mascot is an adorable dog. The only thing I like more than boats and dogs is the food, and I’ve heard the city has great options in that department as well. I don’t know what else a girl could want.
But back to Smokey. This charming Bluetick Coonhound — originally named Blue Smoky, after the mountains — has been represented by Vols since 1953. Obviously dogs don’t live as long as we’d like them to, so right now we’re on Smokey X. Smokey X is passing the torch for Smokey XI this year, and if I’m lucky I might get to spend time with both .
There are statues of every Smokey in Knoxville. I don’t really like statues of people because I think they always look a little weird and are more often than not dedicated to the wrong people. But when it comes to dog statues, I couldn’t be more of a monument. In fact, every city should be filled with dog statues. Dogs are so good. Tennessee knows what’s up when it comes to getting canines right.
Animals are very cruel this week, but have you seen this man?
I have more questions than answers at this point, so I’ll just say that if all goes well, I’ll be able to report back.
I’ve always wanted to see chessboards. Did you know that it takes 120 gallons of orange and white paint to complete them? It will also be one of those games where Checker Neyland is in full force, with the stadium providing shirts for each section to make the crowd look like a checkerboard too. A very vivid visual effect on a football match.
I can’t wait for Tennessee. But in the meantime, check out what I was up to on my last tour stop in Austin Texas vs. Alabama:
Hanging out with Big Bertha, the 100-year-old drum:
Had tacos with Reina Vazquez, founder of Veracruz (best breakfast tacos I’ve ever had):
And asked people why Arch Manning chose Texas over Bama:
Thanks as always for following my adventures in the world of college football. It is such a privilege to take you with me.
Charlotte Wilder is the lead columnist and co-host of “People’s sports podcast” for FOX Sports. She has the honor of representing a perennially underserved area of Boston in sports media, loves talking to sports fans about their feelings, and is most excited to eat a hot dog on the ballpark or nachos at the stadium. Follow her on Twitter @TheWilderThings.
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