78F Neyland Stadium, Knoxville, TN
Ranked for the first time in four seasons, Tennessee will likely have to get past an old nemesis to keep its spot in the Top 25.
In their SEC opener, the No. 23 Volunteers will seek to earn their first win in eight years over No. 18 Florida on Saturday night.
Tennessee (2-0) is back in the AP rankings for the first time since the 2008 preseason poll thanks to a pair of decisive wins. After topping North Carolina State 35-21 in Atlanta on Aug. 31, the Volunteers handled Georgia State 51-13 this past Saturday.
Tyler Bray completed 18 of 20 passes for 310 yards and four touchdowns in that win, with Justin Hunter hauling in three of those scores to tie a school record. Bray has connected on 73.8 percent of his passes (45 of 61) for 643 yards and six TDs without an interception through two games.
He also led Tennessee to a 2-0 start last season before a 33-23 loss at then-No. 16 Florida. Bray had three touchdown passes in that game but was also picked off twice and couldn't help his team overcome a 23-point deficit.
"We know this is going to be a big challenge," running back Rajion Neal said. "It's going to be a big step for us as far as showing everybody what we're made of this year."
The Vols' seventh straight loss in the series was particularly painful for Hunter, who tore his left ACL and missed the rest of the season. That defeat was among seven over Tennessee's final 10 games in 2011.
"I just want to show them what I can do at 100 percent," Hunter said. "From the time I got hurt, I want to play so bad. Ever since that game, I've been wanting to play them again. That's the game I left on the field, and I wish I could have it back."
Hunter will seek that redemption while trying to lead Tennessee to its first win over Florida since Sept. 18, 2004. That season was also the last time the Vols started 3-0.
The Gators (2-0, 1-0 SEC) will try to build on last weekend's comeback victory at Texas A&M. Florida trailed 17-7 late in the first half before responding with 13 unanswered points to spoil the Aggies' SEC debut.
Mike Gillislee rushed for two touchdowns for the second straight game but also appeared to aggravate a groin injury.
"I think he should be fine," coach Will Muschamp said. "We'll make sure he's ready to go for Saturday, but we feel like he's fully available."
Gillislee leads the SEC with 231 rushing yards, averaging 6.1 per carry. The Gators' ground game has proved particularly important during the win streak over Tennessee as they've outgained the Vols by an average of 154.7-46.4.
"If we don't stop the run, they're going to be able to control the game, the time of possession and things like that, and it's going to put us behind," Tennessee nose guard Daniel Hood said. "But if we can go out, dominate the line of scrimmage, stop the run and give the ball to our offense, it will give (our offense) more chances to score."
The Gators won't have a pair of defensive players available for Saturday's game. Linebacker Jelani Jenkins is expected to miss at least four weeks following surgery on his right thumb, and cornerback Cody Riggs is also out for the next month after breaking his right foot.
Florida also announced that linebacker Ronald Powell, formerly among the nation's top-ranked recruits, is expected to miss the rest of the season with a knee injury.
"We did have some guys go down in the game and we've kind of got a saying around here, 'Man down, Man up,'" Muschamp said. "Our depth is still not where it needs to be but certainly much better than it was a year ago."
Florida, which has won three in a row at Neyland Stadium, holds a slight 22-19 lead in the all-time series but is 10-11 in Knoxville.
This is the first time the teams have met with both ranked since then-No. 5 Florida blew out the No. 22 Vols 59-20 on Sept. 15, 2007.
Tennessee has dropped 11 straight to Top 25 opponents while the Gators have lost the past nine such matchups.