Alabama head coach Nick Saban calls excessive praise from the media rat poison. And the Tennessee Vols are getting a full dose this week.

Saban has battled “rat poison” from the media for years. Alabama is a perennial threat to win the national championship and they rarely lose. The media is left with little to criticize so it results in incessant praise for the Crimson Tide.

Tennessee is dealing with the same thing this week — albeit on a smaller scale.

It seems like no one in the media is giving the Florida Gators a chance this weekend against the Vols.

Florida, who is led by new head coach Billy Napier, is off to a 2-1 start. They got off to a strong start by beating Utah, but they’ve looked less than stellar in each of their last two games (a loss to Kentucky and a narrow win against South Florida).

Sep 10, 2022; Gainesville, Florida, USA; Kentucky Wildcats linebacker J.J. Weaver (13) tackles Florida Gators running back Nay’Quan Wright (5) during the second half at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Because of Florida’s struggles and Tennessee’s early dominance, most sportsbooks have the Vols as a 10 or 11-point favorite.

And most analysts feel like Tennessee is going to easily handle the Gators in Knoxville.

On paper it all makes sense. Tennessee is playing at a higher level with a more experienced coaching staff. The Vols have the most consistent quarterback and they’re playing well on defense.

Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson also appears to be a little banged up, which has limited his effectiveness the last two weeks.

Everything points to a win for UT.

But I think folks are forgetting that this is Florida/Tennessee. A lot of that stuff can be thrown out the window when these two teams get together.

There have been numerous times over the last 15 years that the Vols have lost to some not-so-great Gators teams. Tennessee should’ve beaten Florida in 2014, 2015, and 2017. But they failed to come through each time.

I’m not saying that’s what’s going to happen this year — this is a different team (different even from what we saw last year against Florida).

But the Vols still have to be sure to block out the noise this week. They haven’t beaten Florida yet. And nothing that’s being said this week is going to help Tennessee beat Florida.

That’s something that Vols head coach Josh Heupel spoke about earlier in the week.

Heupel wants his players to embrace the energy of the week, while also focusing on their preparation instead of the outside noise.

“You’re going to hear the outside noise and the energy and excitement,” said Heupel. “Our kids should be excited about what the environment is going to be on Saturday. Your preparation leads yourself to being ready to play. Competitive composure will be big in this one. At times, we’ve done a really good job of that. Obviously, there were some things the other night (against Akron) that I did not like. It’s going to be important for us all – the 11 guys on the field and everybody on the sidelines too – to be able to compete and have the right frame of mind for 60 minutes.”

Can Tennessee avoid the rat poison this week?

I tend to think the answer is yes. Heupel has done an extremely good job of keeping his players focused. We saw with the way the Vols played last weekend against Akron that they weren’t looking ahead to Florida.

But the outside noise from the media is still an obstacle Tennessee has to overcome this week.

We’ll find out pretty quickly on Saturday how the Vols handled the rat poison all week.

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