SCOTT: SEC UPDATE

Losing to Florida, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina and Notre Dame were bad enough, but Tennessee's season sank to its lowest level since 1988 on Saturday with a 28-24 home loss to Vanderbilt that does nothing to quell the rampant speculation swirling around the program.

"Well, I guess sometimes before you start building back you have to hit rock bottom. This is about rock bottom," Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said. "We had plenty of opportunities to win the game, and we obviously didn't make plays to do that."

Finishing without a bowl game for the first time in 17 years and losing to Vanderbilt for the first 22 years will make coaching changes even more important for head coach Phillip Fulmer.

According to various media sources in the Tennessee coverage area, those changes are already taking place behind the scenes. Look for Fulmer to release as many as five coaches when the season ends following Saturday's game at Kentucky.

Fulmer is expected to bring former offensive coordinator Dave Cutcliffe back to run the offense following the resignation of Randy Sanders two weeks ago. Cutcliffe left Tennessee in 1988 to become the head coach at Ole Miss, got fired at Ole Miss after the 2004 season and was supposed to be the offensive coordinator at Notre Dame this season until heart surgery forced him to resign last spring. Cutcliffe is now living in Knoxville again, so Vol fans didn't have to go very far to make the Fulmer-Cutcliffe connection.

Fulmer is also rumored to be looking at hiring Alabama assistant Sparky Woods, the former South Carolina head coach whose son, Casey Woods, is a sophomore wide receiver and holder for the Vols.

Fulmer could also be prepared to hire former Tennessee receiver Thomas Woods, who coached receivers for Cutcliffe at Ole Miss.

Another possibility could include former Tennessee linebacker Dale Jones, currently an assistant at Division I-AA Appalachian State,

If those coaches enter the pictures, who leaves? Fulmer is expected to cut ties with offensive Line Coach Jimmy Ray Stephens, receivers coach Pat Washington, running backs coach Trooper Taylor and Sanders, who remains on the staff as quarterbacks coach – for now.

Firing Sanders will be tough for Fulmer because of their relationship, but the other changes won't be so difficult. Fulmer, who once carried the reputation as being one of college football's better offensive line coaches, will most likely help current assistant Greg Adkins with the offensive line.

As for the other two assistants, Washington and Taylor, Fulmer has simply run out of patience with Washington and his underachieving receivers, as well as Taylor's constant problems with other staff members. Taylor is supposed to be a strong recruiter but he has alienated other coaches with his behavior behind the scenes and has not lived up to expectations as a coach since he arrived in Knoxville in December, 2004.

As for Fulmer, it's difficult to say just how hot the seat is under his rather prodigious backside, especially since he is one of the nation's winningest coaches, but how many losing seasons with Tennessee tolerate?

"There's a lot of pride in this program," Fulmer said. "And there's a really good base of kids coming back for next year. We've got two or three juniors who will probably have some decisions to make (about the NFL draft). I believe they'll be back. At least I think the majority of them will. We'll go back to work."

This week, Georgia will make the first of what could turn out to be three trips to Atlanta in five weeks. The Bulldogs play at Georgia Tech on Saturday and play the winner of the SEC West at the Georgia Dome on Dec. 3. The winner of that will most likely end up in the Sugar Bowl. Because of the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina, the Sugar Bowl will be played at the Georgia Dome this time around.

It may seem like Georgia sort of stumbled into the SEC championship game following losses to Florida and Auburn, but think about it: how many preseason publications picked Georgia to win the SEC East after the Bulldogs?

Most preseason polls picked Tennessee or Florida to win the East instead of the Bulldogs, who lost so many key players from last year's team, including NFL draftees quarterback David Greene, defensive end David Pollack, free safety Thomas Davis, linebacker Odell Thurman and receivers Reggie Brown and Fred Gibson.

"People wondered if this was going to be a rebuilding year," senior quarterback D.J. Shockley said. "Well, I guess every year needs to be a rebuilding year for Georgia."

Shockley was one of the primary keys to Georgia's "rebuilding" efforts, growing from a talented athlete in a part-time role to a dependable playmaker in a full-time role for the Bulldogs.

Before Shockley suffered a knee injury in the Arkansas game, Georgia was 7-0 and ranked No. 3 in the nation. The Bulldogs lost 14-10 to Florida without Shockley and lost 31-30 to Auburn in the final seconds with Shockley back in the saddle. That's two losses by a total of five points, one without Shockley.

"I'll remember coming into this year with all the doubts, starting with people picking us to finish third in the East," Shockley said. "I'll remember everyone picking out different guys and saying, 'Can they do the job?' -- like myself."

This much we know headed into the final week of the preseason: LSU, Georgia, Auburn, Alabama, Florida and South Carolina are headed for bowls, and everyone else is out of the picture for good, including Tennessee.

That leaves the SEC with six bowl teams and seven bowl tie-ins. The same conference that sent nine teams to bowl games in 2000, eight in 1998, '99 and 2001 and seven in 2002 and '03 will now send only six teams to bowls for the second consecutive season.

With Alabama losing to Auburn on Saturday, the SEC probably isn't going to get an additional team in a BCS Bowl unless LSU wins the West and loses to Georgia in the SEC championship game.

At this point, it appears the Music City Bowl will be the odd bowl out. The Music City would have been happy to have either Tennessee or Vanderbilt for a local tie-in, but neither team came through.

At this point, here are the possible SEC bowl match-ups:

Capital One: Either the loser of the SEC championship game or Auburn.

Outback: Florida if it beats Florida State on Saturday. South Carolina's chances took a hit when the Gamecocks lost to Clemson last week.

Cotton: Most likely either Auburn or Alabama, or LSU if the Tigers lose this week.

Peach: Plenty of options, with a strong interest in South Carolina.

Independence: If the SEC gets an additional team in a BCS Bowl, even the Independence could go without an SEC team for the second consecutive year.

When coach Urban Meyer took over at Florida he implemented a demanding offseason program and raised the standard of discipline for his team. So far his team has responded off the field, in terms of behavior and conditioning, but the Gators' on-field performance leaves something to be desired as they prepare for their final regular season game against Florida State.

With 11 penalties for 86 yards in a 30-22 loss at South Carolina two weeks ago, including consecutive offensive line penalties to ruin a drive late in the game, Florida entered this past week ranked last in the SEC in penalties with 90 penalties and 69.9 penalty yards per game.

"I'm not one of those guys that believes in a good penalty, but an aggressive penalty is something that happens once in a while," Meyer said. "It's the nonsense ones, holding on a kickoff return, a block in the back on the punt return because of not great effort going back or technique (that are inexcusable).

"The only way to work on it is if it's a fundamental penalty to keep working on it. If it's a lack of discipline because it's late hits and jumping offside, then you've got a problem."

When running back/return specialist Rafael Little gained 372 total yards the week before against Vanderbilt and took over the national lead in all-purpose, Kentucky coach Rich Brooks complained that Little wasn't getting his just do for first-team All-SEC consideration.

"Why wouldn't he be (considered)?" Brooks said. "Well, I can tell you why. He plays for Kentucky. If he played anywhere else, he'd be a first-teamer and maybe an All-American."

Then again, it might help to have a big game against one of the better team on the schedule. Little rushed for only 29 yards on 13 carries and caught four passes for only five yards against Georgia. His one big play of the day, a 75-yard punt return for a touchdown, was wiped out by an illegal block by Raymond Fontaine.

Maybe THAT'S why Little won't earn first-team All-SEC honors. Well, that and Little's propensity for fumbling the ball.

After losing to four ranked teams in five weeks in the first half of the season, Mississippi State went into an open date in mid-October with a chance to rally and finish strong against Houston, Kentucky, Alabama, Arkansas and Ole Miss.

With Saturday's 44-10 loss at Arkansas the Bulldogs are 0-4 in that stretch and face the very real possibility finishing 0-8 in the SEC if they can't beat Ole Miss at home on Saturday. They're also confounding their coach, Sylvester Croom.

"I still haven't figured out what happened and what went wrong," Croom said. "We had a lack of intensity and made a lot of mistakes. We didn't execute and we have to figure that out. This is very frustrating. We didn't take advantage of good opportunities. They didn't even do anything different. It is thoroughly disappointing."

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