Neither Tennessee wide receiver Zach Rogers nor his brother, former Vol Austin Rogers, knows what it’s like to beat Florida.
The Volunteers have lost their last six games against the Gators. Zach Rogers, a junior, has been around for two of those losses, and he watched his older brother suffer through the other four.
"I’m a little more aware of (the losing streak) than probably other guys are, but Saturday’s a different day," Zach Rogers said Tuesday. "We’ve got a new team every year, so we’re going to be ready to play. I’ve been telling some of these young guys what it’s like, and they’re going to be ready to play too."
Heading into Saturday’s game in Gainesville between the Southeastern Conference East Division rivals, Tennessee coach Derek Dooley likes that kind of attitude. To him, it’s not about whether the players are aware of the losing streak, it’s how they deal with it in their minds.
"It is only relevant if the team makes it relevant. I’ve said it all along: you can’t be held hostage to the past," Dooley said.
There’s no denying the importance of the Florida-Tennessee rivalry; the winner of the game has gone on to play in the SEC championship 12 of 19 times. But with two young rosters, different coaches and the Gators having won seven of the last 10 in the series, the rivalry has a different look.
Gone are the days of Steve Spurrier firing barbs at Phillip Fulmer or Lane Kiffin taking aim at Urban Meyer. Dooley, who’s in his second year, and his first-year Florida counterpart and former colleague Will Muschamp have done what they can to downplay any animosity that exists between the teams.
Meyer would play Tennessee’s "Rocky Top" fight song over and over and post Vols signs, photos and quotes around the Gators’ facilities. Muschamp hasn’t done any of that.
"I just think from an approach standpoint, I don’t like to treat any other game more important than another one," Muschamp said. "It’s the next one; that’s why it’s the most important one."
A third of the players from both teams have never even suited up for this rivalry game and two-thirds haven’t been on the roster for a meeting of the two teams at the Swamp. Tennessee (2-0) has just 31 upperclassmen, compared to 34 sophomores and 42 freshmen, while Florida (2-0) has 35 upperclassmen, 35 sophomores and 33 freshmen.
The youth may end up serving the Vols well. They’re heading into the game 2-0 for the first time since 2003 behind confident sophomore quarterback Tyler Bray and sophomore wide receivers Justin Hunter and Da’Rick Rogers and seem to have missed the memo that they’ve once again been picked as the underdogs.
"This is a new team. We’re not an old Tennessee team. We’re just trying to keep the winning tradition alive," said Bray, who will make his first start against the No. 16 Gators.
Florida defensive tackle Omar Hunter, who, as a redshirt junior, has been around for the last four wins in the series, doesn’t think the rivalry has lost any of its luster, despite the lopsided results.
"It’s probably my favorite rival game to play in," he said. "These two teams hate each other, and they always love to play. Everyone gives it their all, and they all enjoy playing in this game."
A win over the Gators wouldn’t just mean an end to a painful streak or a leg up in the SEC East race for the Vols. They’re also trying to end a streak of 10 consecutive losses against ranked opponents on the road.
Tennessee senior tailback Tauren Poole wants to prepare the freshmen and sophomore Vols for what it will be like to play at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, a place where the Gators have held an 88.1 percent winning percentage since 1990.
"I’m just going to say try to keep your composure," he said. "Try to stay calm as possible, because the fans aren’t nice at Florida and the atmosphere is going to be crazy. So you’ve just got to keep your calm, keep a level head and stay focused on what we’re going to do."