All Pressure is on Fulmer, Ainge

Normally the Florida/Tennessee game is one where I view the visiting team as sorta playing with house money while the home squad has to defend its turf. But this year is not a normal one and I believe that all the pressure this Saturday rests on the shoulders of Tennessee's Head Coach Phillip Fulmer and his quarterback Eric Ainge.

The reasoning for this is pretty simple. Florida is the team playing the entire season with house money. The Gators are the defending SEC and National Champs and lost nine starters off that championship defense as well as their four-year starting quarterback (Chris Leak), leading rusher (DeShawn Wynn) and top receiver (Dallas Baker). Add to that losing their top returning receiver (Bubba Caldwell) and best offensive lineman (Phil Trautwein) and it would be no surprise to see the Gators have a drop off.

It's a very different story in Rocky Top. Tennessee has managed just 14 wins in its last 20 games and is just 8-8 in the SEC over that span. After winning the SEC and National Championships in 1998, Tennessee has made it to just two SEC title games and lost both times. Fulmer has a tremendous won/lost record in Knoxville with 138 wins and just 42 losses, but in recent years Tennessee has unquestionably slipped. Since the start of the 2002 campaign, the Vols are 43-22. That's certainly very good, but it's a far cry from the dominant teams of 1995-98 which went 45-5.

One last thing, Fulmer is 5-10 against the Gators.

Ainge's Last Chance

Senior quarterback Eric Ainge has been Tennessee's primary passer for most of the last three seasons, and he put up some pretty good numbers. Last year he hooked up with quarterback guru David Cutcliff and improved from 45.5 to 67 percent completions. His touchdowns tossed went from five to 19 while his interceptions only went up from seven to nine even though he threw more than twice as many passes.

But Ainge, like another quarterback from Rocky Top (Peyton something) enters his senior season without an SEC Championship ring. He catches a big break in the schedule with Mississippi State rotating onto the Vols' slate while LSU rotates off. His 5,000-plus yards and soon to be 50-plus touchdown passes won't add up to much if he can't get it done this year. And as history has shown us, if you want to win the SEC it's a lot easier if you win this game.

So the pressure is on the Vols when they enter The Swamp Saturday afternoon. That might give Florida a bit of an advantage, but remember one thing, the last time Tennessee really had all the pressure on them in this rivalry was in 1998. They beat Florida in Knoxville that year, and every other team they faced on the way to the National Title.


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