SI.com 2003 College Football Preview




SI.com's College Football Team Previews - from Athlon Sports

  Tennessee Volunteers

 
The Lowdown
Coach: Phillip Fulmer (12th year, 103-25)
2002 record: 8-5 (Lost to Maryland 30-3 in Peach Bowl)
SEC finish: 3rd (East)
2002 offensive stats:
Rush: 150.5 ypg (55, 7)
Pass: 202.7 ypg (67, 5)
2002 defensive stats:
Rush: 128.6 ypg (33, 4)
Pass: 156.2 ypg (4, 3)
Projected Starters
Offense (7 returning starters in bold)
WR   81   Tony Brown   Jr.  
WR  10  Mark Jones  Sr. 
LT   77   Michael Muñoz   Jr.  
LG   63   Jason Respert   Jr.  
C   64   Scott Wells   Sr.  
RG  60  Chavis Smith  Sr. 
RT  66  Sean Young  Sr. 
TE  83  Victor McClure  Jr. 
QB   7   Casey Clausen   Sr.  
TB   21   Cedric Houston   Jr.  
FB   27   Troy Fleming   Sr.  
Defense (4)
DE  46  Karlton Neal  Jr. 
DT  96  Greg Jones  So. 
DT  90  Mondre Dickerson  Sr. 
DE  Constantin Ritzmann  Sr. 
LB  35  Jason Mitchell  So. 
LB   41   Robert Peace   Sr.  
LB  Kevin Burnett  Jr. 
CB  24  Antwan Stewart  Fr. 
CB   33   Jabari Greer   Sr.  
SS   8   Gibril Wilson   Sr.  
FS   16   Rashad Baker   Sr.  
Special Teams
25  James Wilhoit  Fr. 
47  Dustin Colquitt  Jr. 
KR  23  Corey Larkins  Jr. 
PR  10  Mark Jones  Sr. 
2003 Schedule
Aug. 30  Fresno State 
Sept. 6  Marshall 
Sept. 20  at Florida 
Sept. 27  South Carolina 
Oct. 4  at Auburn 
Oct. 11  Georgia 
Oct. 25  at Alabama 
Nov. 1  Duke 
Nov. 8  at Miami 
Nov. 15  Mississippi State 
Nov. 22  Vanderbilt 
Nov. 29  at Kentucky 
Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer believes the Volunteers are on the comeback trail after an 8-5 season. "It's a tough schedule, but it was tough two years ago when we won at Notre Dame, at Florida and at Alabama," Fulmer said. "We're going to be as good as we can be, however good that is."

Fulmer stops short of calling this a rebuilding season, but after losing nearly half the starters from last year's team, he admits there's work to be done.

"You can't stick your head in the sand and say nothing went wrong," Fulmer said. "We have a system and we still believe in it. Each year we tweak the system and adjust to our personnel."

Tailback Cedric Houston says one of the biggest adjustments has been the team's attitude. "We don't have any big talkers on this team," Houston said. "We're definitely blue collar."

OFFENSIVE KEYS:

Quarterback Casey Clausen will take the Volunteers as far as his supporting cast allows. Clausen ranks as the third-most accurate passer in SEC history with a 63.2-percent completion rate, but his toughness is even more impressive, as he played the second half of last season with a fractured collarbone.

Tennessee's line must do a better job protecting Clausen after yielding 41 sacks last season. All-America candidate Michael Muñoz anchors the line from the left tackle position.

At tailback, Houston had four consecutive 100-yard games last season and does a good job of taking what's there. Gerald Riggs Jr. has a blend of power and speed not seen at Tennessee since Jamal Lewis. Riggs did have academic issues to address over the summer.

The Volunteers' most dangerous receiver is converted defensive back Mark Jones, a mighty mite (5-foot-9, 185 pounds) who can make yards after the catch. James Banks, who doubles as the backup quarterback, is the most elusive runner on the team, but he's still getting familiar with the receiver position.

DEFENSIVE KEYS:

Tennessee lost eight starters from the nation's No. 5-ranked unit, but a proven pair of senior safeties and a talented linebacking corps have fans in Knoxville optimistic.

All-SEC free safety Rashad Baker returns to the secondary alongside heavy-hitting strong safety Gibril Wilson. Senior Jabari Greer is an experienced cornerback, but UT is searching desperately for another corner.

Kevin Burnett (6-foot-3, 235) should return with a vengeance after being lost just four plays into last season with a knee injury. Burnett will give quarterbacks nightmares blitzing from the weak side. Kevin Simon (5-11, 225) is another fast and furious 'backer who plays sideline to sideline and brings the hits from all angles.

For the second straight year, the Vols must replace their starting front four. Senior captain Constantin Ritzmann, who suffered a season-ending injury last August, will be asked to take a leadership role. Ritzmann, a 6-4, 265-pounder originally from Germany, is quick off the ball and has been a disruptive force. Parys Haralson plays with a mean streak at defensive end.

SPECIAL TEAMS:

Dustin Colquitt was one of three finalists for the Ray Guy Award last season after averaging 43.6 yards on his booming punts. Redshirt freshman kicker James Wilhoit was a thunderfoot in spring drills, consistently hitting from 55 yards and in.

FINAL ANALYSIS:

Clausen has the talent to win a national championship, but the Vols lack the gamebreakers at receiver they've had in the past. Tennessee is hoping one of the three incoming All-America receivers -- Bret Smith, Jayson Swain or Robert Meachem -- will emerge quickly.

Defensively, the Vols look stubborn. The front four is green, but the linebacking corps is loaded with as much speed and talent as ever. Tennessee is one cornerback short of having an exceptional secondary.

There won't be any philosophical changes. Balanced offense, aggressive defense and solid kicking game is the formula Fulmer has used to win a national title and post the SEC's best record over the past five years (49-14).

But this year's travels could be bumpy, with a schedule that includes games at Auburn, Alabama, Florida and Miami.

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