Tuck: Gators & Volunteers Now Second Rate?

Florida and Tennessee have met every year on CBS since the network became the primary broadcaster of SEC games in 1996.  The two programs have been highly ranked and respected and it’s become a tradition that their game kicks off the CBS football season.

But that matchup has stout company this year because of the additions of Texas A&M and Missouri to the SEC. The Gators and Volunteers are playing in Knoxville on Sept. 15, which is the also now the same day Alabama and Arkansas will play in Fayetteville.

“Normally you don’t have that kind of selection on that day because Alabama and Arkansas in past schedules has been a week later,” CBS Sports executive vice president Mike Aresco said. “Alabama and Arkansas is a game we’ve done the last three years, so it does give us some options on that first Saturday. 

Wow.  Options?  How could the Gators and Vols let it reach the day where other options could even be considered?

The Florida-Tennessee game is the only league contest CBS has shown all 16 years, and it has been televised in prime time on five occasions, but the two proud programs combined to go 12-13 last season.  The Gators had a losing league record a year ago for the first time since 1988, while the Vols lost seven SEC games for the first time ever.

Heck, South Carolina and Georgia have been the superior East Division teams of late, with the Gamecocks winning the East in 2010 and the Bulldogs winning last season.  It doesn’t look like that is going to change heading into 2012.

Alabama-Arkansas would be the more likely pick for CBS, considering the Crimson Tide have won two of the past three BCS titles and the Razorbacks are coming off their first top-five finish since 1977.  Aresco said CBS has until July to inform the SEC which Sept. 15 game it will choose to open its 17th year of televising the league.

The only games so far this season etched in stone on CBS are the Florida-Georgia game in Jacksonville on Oct. 27, Alabama @ LSU on Nov. 3 in primetime, and LSU @ Arkansas on Nov. 23.  Last year, CBS showed Alabama-Florida in prime time but then worked out a deal with ESPN to show LSU’s 9-6 overtime win in Tuscaloosa at night. By yielding a second evening slot to CBS last season, ESPN has two weekends this year in which it can pick a game before CBS.

ESPN now looks to also have real chance to present the Gators and Vols to us this season.  I know this isn’t a big deal.  They’ll play the game.  It will be televised.  It is just another change in college football.  Another tradition that is being pushed out the door.  Granted in this case, even with the SEC expansion, it is nobody’s fault but the struggling programs in Gainsville and Knoxville that a change is occurring.  

FSU and Miami playing has become mostly an afterthought on the national stage, and now Florida-Tennessee too.  The state of Florida football hasn’t been worse in decades.