SCOTT: SEC News & Notes

With 107,000 fans in the stands for every home game and championship expectations for every season, there are no insignificant football games at Tennessee. "Every game at Tennessee is crucial," Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said. Some, though, are more crucial than others.

That's particularly true this week as the Vols attempt to move beyond last season's stunning 5-6 finish. Instead of beating up on the Louisiana-Lafayette's of the world, the Vols will open with California, the team picked by most preseason polls to battle with USC for the Pac-10 title.


"They're really a fine football team," Fulmer said of the Bears, who are ranked ninth in The Associated Press top-25 and 12th in the USA Today coaches' poll. "They don't have an obvious weakness. Marshawn Lynch is one of the best backs if not the best back in the country. He runs tough, but he can run away from you, catch the ball out of the backfield, and block well. Just a fabulous player.


"They'll get settled on a quarterback. They're getting started on a new style of offense, and you have to deal with that."


Challenging openers will be prevalent throughout the SEC this week as South Carolina plays at Mississippi State on Thursday, followed by USC at Arkansas, Washington State at Auburn, Hawaii at Alabama, Southern Miss at Florida, Memphis at Ole Miss and Vanderbilt at Michigan.


And then there's Cal at Tennessee, the most important season opener the Vols have played since they entered the 1988 season ranked 10th and won 34-33 at 17th-ranked Syracuse. The Vols just happened to go on and win the national championship that season.


Add the opponent to the way the Vols finished last season, when they lost four consecutive games at one point and five of their last seven games, and the Cal game could go a long way toward determining the fate of this season, as well as Fulmer's job security.


As Tennessee offensive tackle Arron Sears said at SEC Media Days in late July, "A loss for the first game would be devastating to us, especially after last year."


While playing a team such as Cal can be dangerous in the opener, it also has its advantages.


"Playing a team like Cal in the first game gets your players' attention," Fulmer said. "You don't have to worry about not being motivated."


The nature of the game should also lend itself to a home-field advantage.


"The crowd has to crank it up," Fulmer said. "We have to give them a good reason to cheer, but they've got to be on their feet. That needs to be a real plus for us."


The Vols need all the help they can get in this game, especially in light of their home struggles in recent seasons. Tennessee has lost six consecutive home games to top-10 teams. The Vols may be 72-14 at home under Fulmer but nine of those losses have come in the last four years. They haven't defeated a top-10 opponent at home since a 37-20 win over Georgia in 1999.


"At one time, we had the longest winning streak at home in the Southeastern Conference," Fulmer said. "I guess you're talking about last year. We didn't do quite as well and maybe a year or two before that.


"Y'all want to talk about recent history. Let's talk about history. We've been a good home team. The last couple of years haven't been exactly what we wanted, but we need to defend our stadium. That's been brought up and pointed out and something we've definitely talked about a lot."




As SEC teams turn their attention toward their opener, Alabama senior linebacker Juwan Simpson insists he still doesn't know if he will play against Hawaii.


Simpson was arrested on drug and gun charges after a traffic stop in May. He's currently in the midst of a one-year Drug Court process in an attempt to remove a misdemeanor possession of marijuana charge from his record. Simpson paid a fine for a misdemeanor charge of carrying a handgun without a permit.


Alabama coach Mike Shula remains consistently mum on disciplinary action, so all Simpson can do is wait.


"Coach Shula just told me to come out and have fun and play and when it's time for the decision to be made, it will be made," Simpson said.


Simpson's absence could be a tough blow for a defense attempting to replace seven starters and prepare for a wide-open Hawaii offense. Alabama's defense played well against somewhat similar offensive attacks from Florida and Texas Tech last season, holding the Gators and Red Raiders to a combined 13 points. Still, a lot of that had to do with defensive coordinator Joe Kines' preparation and a veteran defense.


Kines is still around and seems to just get better with age, but with so many of those key defensive players moving on this could be a dangerous game for the Crimson Tide.


"Everybody knows that (Hawaii) is an explosive team, and they can score at any time," Simpson said. "So we just try to cut down on the small things, because that's what we think will get us beat. It's never anything major. It's always the small things, so that's what we're focusing on."




Auburn often had more than 12 players at a time on its injury list throughout most of preseason camp, but the Tigers seem to getting healthy just in time for their opener against Washington State. As the Tigers turn their attention toward the Cougars it appears only two players - reserve linebacker Steve Gandy (thigh) and backup offensive lineman Oscar Gonzalez (toe) – will miss the game.


That's especially good news for an offense counting on production and leadership from senior Courtney Taylor, the only receiver with any significant experience. Taylor missed considerable playing time with a high ankle sprain last season and missed more preseason practice time because of a bruised knee, but he returned to practice last week.


"We've got to have him. We have to have all our playmakers on the field," offensive coordinator Al Borges said. "We're still searching for some guys, some depth. Rod Smith has proven he has the potential to be a playmaker. Courtney has always been that way. We're trying to bring him around so he's not getting re-injured. He hasn't had an opportunity to show what he's capable of."




One of Florida's biggest problems last season was a lack of production in the running game, not just from quarterback Chris Leak, but mostly from the tailbacks. None of the Gators' back seemed willing to step up and become the go-to back the offense needed, and that shortcoming proved to be a problem throughout the spring and into the preseason.


As the Gators prepare for Southern Miss, coach Urban Meyer said mercurial senior DeShawn Wynn and sophomore Kestahn Moore are the most likely candidates to be the team's No. 1 back, followed by sophomore Markus Manson.


If Wynn played up to his potential, he would be the most obvious choice for the Gators.


"He's one of those guys who can't handle positive reinforcement, but he's practicing his tail off," Meyer said. "There are some kids who can't handle it. You give them positive reinforcement and they go out there and don't practice very hard. What motivates them is a coach in his grill the entire time. I don't mind doing that if that's what it takes."


If Wynn can't get his act together, Meyer seems ready to move on to Moore, who got off to a slow start in the preseason before kicking his game into a higher gear last week.


"He's a hard runner," Meyer said. "He might not be as fast as some of them, but it doesn't help if you're fast and don't use it. Yeah, I would say he's the most reliable."




Former Georgia quarterback David Greene was not surprised to see senior Joe Tereshinski winning the Bulldogs' starting quarterback job.


"The one thing about Joe that I always loved and respected about him and that all the other guys I know, (David) Pollack and a bunch of the other guys felt the same way, is that Joe T. is a warrior," Greene, a reserve quarterback with the Seattle Seahawks, told the Athens Banner-Herald. "The guy leaves his heart and soul on the field when he plays. I wouldn't necessarily say that Joe is the flashiest guy in the world, but that's like me. I wasn't flashy at all either."


Georgia fans have been eager to see talented true freshman Matthew Stafford play, but Stafford often struggled in the preseason while Tereshinski proved to be more steady and solid, as well as physically and mentally tough.


"He's one of those guys that you know what you're going to get when it's time to play the game," Greene said. "You're not having to worry about, 'Is the guy going to be ready to play this week or is he not?' The guy's going out there ready to go all the time.


"He's the type of guy that in my opinion isn't going to be the type of quarterback to run out of bounds. He would just as soon run over everybody. It's kind of fun to have a guy like that."


Of course, it helps that Tereshinski's second career start will come on Saturday against Division I-AA Western Kentucky. That gives him one week to get ready for an SEC road game at South Carolina. It should also help him survive a lack of depth on the offensive line.


Georgia is preparing to play Western Kentucky with only one reserve offensive lineman - sophomore guard Seth Watts.


"That's plenty," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "You can only play five at a time."

Georgia's depth has been depleted by two-game suspensions to tackle Daniel Inman and center Ian Smith and several injuries, including a shoulder injury that will prevent guard Zeb McKinzey from playing against Western Kentucky. Georgia already lost two starters, Josh Brock and Bartley Miller, to career-ending injuries last year.


Of the 22 offensive linemen signed by Richt and his staff since 2002, 13 won't be available for the Western Kentucky game.


"When I used to think about it, I'd get nervous," Richt said. "Now, I just don't think about it."




While Stafford, Arkansas quarterback Mitch Mustain and Florida quarterback Tim Tebow will have to wait their turn for now, several SEC true freshmen will see considerable playing time this week.


Alabama offensive tackle Andre Smith will see some playing time and could even earn the start against Hawaii. Arkansas' Damian Williams is listed as a co-starter at flanker, along with senior Cedric Washington and could be only the third Razorbacks true freshman to start the first game in the past 24 years. At Florida, Meyer said he's expecting three true freshmen wide receivers – Percy Harvin, Jarred Fayson and Riley Cooper - to play against Southern Miss.


At South Carolina, quarterback Chris Smelley continues to push returning starter Blake Mitchell for the No. 1 job. He had the best camp of any of South Carolina's quarterbacks and has shown impressive intelligence and poise for a true freshman. Of course, it helps that he is 20 years old.




Richard Scott is a Birmingham-based sports writer, author and featured columnist in Tiger Rag. Reach him at

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