SEC Media Days - Day 2 Notebook East

Thursday's edition of SEC Media Days provided Florida's two rivals from the SEC East – Tennessee and Georgia. One team is coming off a surprising SEC Championship appearance and the other is the favorite (depending on which magazine you read) to get there this season.

Tennessee

According to Vols' head coach Phillip Fulmer there are about 11-12 guys on both sides of the football that can provide quality leadership for Tennessee. One of the biggest issues on offense, however, will be trying to replace Eric Ainge at quarterback. But fourth-year junior Jonothan Crompton will be the one under center looking to accomplish more than the third place finish predicted of the Vols this season.

Crompton wasn't the big topic, though, and neither was the Vol defense. Instead, most were curious about a subpoena that Fulmer received as he entered the lobby of the Wynfrey Hotel to testify in a libel suit against him that was filed by an Alabama booster. Fulmer didn't want to discuss the issues.

"As I said to all the other groups, this is not the place for that kind of thing," Fulmer said. There are great fans that have great passion about the Southeastern Conference that are not interested in that kind of BS. And I would have some other choice words if there weren't so many cameras in here."

Back to football, without Ainge, the focus of the offense turns to tailback Arian Foster who sits just 684 yards shy of the school's rushing record.

"I think Arian has stayed under the radar, has been underappreciated a bit," Fulmer said. "When we left Tampa, I didn't think we had a chance in heck of keeping him at Tennessee. I probably asked too much of Arian last year to be more vocal of a guy. He's more of a quiet, get it done, working guy, rather than an outspoken team leader. He's worked on his game a lot to get that extra step. That's kind of the wrap on him. He's not a game breaker guy. He's going to make the first guy miss. He's going to fall forward most of the time. He's going be a threat as a receiver. He can protect. You can split him out and use him that way. He's a really, really good football player."

Tennessee is solid in the secondary, returning a pair of sophomores at defensive back. Eric Berry was selected to the Coaches' Preseason First Team. He was the No. 1 corner in the nation heading to Knoxville and lived up to the expectations with five picks last season.

"He's got great character, great work ethic," Fulmer said. "He's a very smart young man. He takes his academics very seriously. Wants to be a dentist. He brings his A-game to the practice field every day, to the weight room, wherever, to be as good as he can be. Just love all those tangible and intangible things that he brings. If he stays healthy and continues on the path that he's on, he'll certainly be one of the best players that Tennessee has had in a long time and one of the best players that has played in the country in a long time."

Florida and Tennessee play their traditional SEC openers against each other on September 20 in Knoxville.

Georgia

Is it Georgia or Florida?

Unlike most disputes of who's better in college football during the BCS era, the Dawgs and Gators will get to figure out who's better on the football field. And Gator fans don't need to be reminded of a certain touchdown celebration from last year's cocktail party. Urban Meyer said on Wednesday that that stuff was in the past (yeah, right). On Thursday, Mark Richt tried to shed some light onto the situation.

"We played Tennessee," Richt said. "We got no fire. We got to have fire. I knew I needed to get better at that. I'm not talking to the team or coaches or anything. I'm deciding I'm going to get all exuberant, and maybe I can rally the troops against Vanderbilt. We're losing 10-0 at halftime. I don't see a whole lot more emotion in that game. We win by the skin of our teeth. We have an open date before Florida. Then I announce to the team, ‘Men, we are going to have to have more enthusiasm and energy or we're not gonna win.' I said, ‘Even if we got to fake it, we're gonna have more energy.'"

Richt admitted that he told his team he wanted a celebration penalty called on his team after Georgia's first touchdown, but never did he imagine that the entire roster would rush out onto the field to celebrate. He thought it would be contained to just the 11 guys on the field. But Richt also said he didn't want an individual celebration. He figured the defense would play some role in the score and wanted a team celebration, but he still figured it would only involve the 11 offensive players.

After Georgia put the ball in the end zone, set up by a turnover forced by the defense, Richt saw the entire team run out on the field, and after the initial shock, was excited.

"When I saw the exuberance, when I saw the energy, when I saw the passion and the fire get unleashed that had been dormant in this football team, I got excited," he said. "I was fired up."

Richt said he called up Meyer the next day to explain what had happened. He also said he doesn't plan on doing something like it again.

"In hindsight, I shouldn't have done it," Richt said. "I won't do anything like that again. It could have easily turned into a big stupid brawl and everything else."

The celebration will certainly fuel this year's meeting between the two teams, and it was probably needed after Florida had dominated the series in recent years. But this year's meeting has the makings of a legendary battle between the two teams who could conceivably be battling for the top spot in the nation. Some previews have the Dawgs ranked No. 1 after their strong finish last season and dominating win over Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl.

"That's the exciting part about this league," Richt said. "That's the exciting part about this season in particular. It's a great, great challenge. We've got outstanding coaches. We've got outstanding players. We've got some experience. But so does everybody else. I mean, LSU won the National Championship. Great football team. Not good team; great team. They lost twice. You know, that's just the way college football is. That's the way our league is."

Florida and Georgia square off on November 1.

Questions or comments? Contact FightinGators.com's Chris Chmielenski


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