NCAA Football Preview - Tennessee Volunteers
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From The Sports Network By Pat Taggart, College Football Staff Writer 2003 SEASON IN REVIEW: Phillip Fulmer is one of the most underrated football coaches in the nation, as he has racked up a 113-28 record in 12 seasons as leader of the Volunteers. In 2003, the squad began its push for a national title with four consecutive wins to open the season, including a 24-10 triumph over Florida in Gainesville and a dramatic overtime triumph over South Carolina. Then, on October 4th, Tennessee went into Auburn and was sent away with a heartbreaking 28-21 defeat. That loss clearly shook the confidence of the Vols, and the next week they were crushed by Georgia, 41-14, in front of a shocked Knoxville crowd. It then appeared that UT might lose for the third straight week, but unbelievable persistence resulted in a five overtime victory over Alabama. That hard-fought triumph began a string of six straight wins to close out the regular season, but a 27-14 loss to Clemson in the Peach Bowl gave the campaign a disappointing conclusion. 2004 ANALYSIS: OFFENSE: It appears that sixth-year senior C.J. Leak will begin the season as the starting quarterback for Tennessee, and although he does possess good size and smarts, Leak is inexperienced and unproven. Should he falter early, and that is certainly a possibility, Rick Clausen could see some action. Clausen's brother Casey was a star at Tennessee in recent years, and the younger sibling is much like his older brother. Tony Brown and James Banks will provide some experience and talent at the receiver position, but Banks will miss the first three games due to a suspension for underage drinking. Only two starting offensive linemen are back in place, but one happens to be star left tackle Michael Munoz. Son of NFL Hall of Famer Anthony Munoz, Michael has tremendous size and all the skill necessary to excel. He will be opening holes for talented tailback Cedric Houston, a senior who racked up 766 yards on only 149 carries in 2003. When the team gets near the goal line, expect Jabari Davis to get the ball. Davis is a powerful 230-pounder who will line up at fullback. DEFENSE: A strength of the Tennessee defensive unit will clearly be the line, as there is plenty of depth at both end and tackle. The best of the bunch is Parys Haralson, a junior who registered 4.5 sacks a year ago. Jesse Mahelona and Greg Jones are a couple of 300 pounders who will be counted on to stuff the run. Kevin Simon is the best of the linebackers, and he finished last season with 115 tackles, including 4.5 sacks. Expect him to be one of the premier linebackers in the SEC and possibly lead the entire league in stops. Kevin Burnett is a sensational athlete, as he is a 235-pound linebacker with close to 4.4 speed. The two Kevins form one of the top linebacking duos in the SEC for sure. As for the defensive backfield, junior corner Jason Allen is the only returning starter. At 6-2, Allen has the size to take on even the biggest receivers. SPECIAL TEAMS: Dustin Colquitt averaged more than 45 yards per punt a season ago and was a consensus All-American. He is a sure bet to post a high average once again, and he almost always gives Tennessee a field position edge. James Wilhoit will handle the placekicking duties, and he nailed 17-of-24 kicks as a freshman in 2003. The combination of Colquitt and Wilhoit is among the top duos in the nation. As for the return game, there are no star returnees. OUTLOOK: While Tennessee is expected to contend for the SEC title, it is hard to get too excited about the team considering that there isn't a single offensive star at a skill position. Leak is unproven, the receivers are average at best, and the tailbacks are good but not great. The front seven will be strong for the defense, but there are some questions in the secondary. Overall, the Vols will likely win eight games during the regular season and earn a decent bowl bid. As for the SEC crown, don't count on it.