Non-Conference Preview -- Part 4

This is the fourth in a five part preseason tour of the non-conference opponents. I'll continue with a look at national championship contender Tennessee. I'll review lost starters, expected replacements, and incoming recruits.



If it is possible to have a disappointing 10-2 season with a New Years Day bowl win, that would characterize Tennessee's 2001.  A late-November win at Florida earned the Volunteers the SEC Eastern Division title and a berth in the SEC Championship Game, with a Rose Bowl bid against Miami as the ultimate prize.  But, the road upset of Florida left Tennessee complacent and Louisiana State, who had lost to Tennessee 26-18 in September, convincingly beat the flat Volunteers 31-20 to claim the SEC's Sugar Bowl bid and deny Tennessee the Rose Bowl bid.  Tennessee was relegated to the second-tier Florida Citrus Bowl, where they took out their frustrations on Michigan in a 45-17 demolition.  Successive years of top shelf recruiting have positioned Tennessee as perennial BCS threats.  Head Coach Philip Fulmer doesn't rebuild the Volunteers.  He reloads them.  Here's a look at the national championship contender Volunteers of Tennessee.   



Fulmer employs a pro set offense.  The 2001 offense was incredibly balanced between the run and the pass.  Although All-American TB Travis Stephens was the predominant ball-carrier (ala William Green at Boston College), passes were well distributed among the WRs, TEs, and RBs.  Tennessee lost 6 starters from this well-balanced unit: 

  • 30 points per game (#35 of 115 in Division 1A)
  • 402 yards per game (#42 in Division 1A)
  • 154 rushing yards per game (#52 in Division 1A)
  • 248 passing yards per game (#37 in Division 1A)

Tennessee lost two starters off its OLine but recovers two former starters who missed last season with injuries.  LT Reggie Coleman and LG Fred Weary departed.  Former Freshman All-American LT RS So Michael Munoz, son of NFL Hall of Fame LT Anthony Munoz, will reclaim his starting job after missing last season as a result of knee surgery.  RS So LG Jason Respert, who opened the 2001 season as the starter until sidelined with an ankle injury in Game 3, will likewise reclaim his starting job.  Starting C RS Jr Scott Wells and starting RT RS Sr Will Ofenheusle return.  Co-starter Jr RG Chavis Smith will likely earn the fifth starting job.  Jr LT Sean Young, RS So LG Victor McClure, RS Jr C Chuck Pugh, Sr RG Anthony Herrera, and RS Fr RT Richie Gandy are the backups.  By replacing departing starters with prior starters returning from injuries, the Volunteer OLine could be among the best in the country. 

Tennessee is deep, talented, and experienced at QB.  Jr QB Casey Claussen (227 of 354 for 2,969 yards, 22 TDs, and 9 INTs) returns after a breakout sophomore season.  RS Jr transfer QB C.J. Leak, a two-year starter at Wake Forest before suffering a horrendous knee injury, will backup Claussen.  The Volunteers are loaded at QB. 

Tennessee was hoping to return the top receiving corps in the nation but that dream ended when RS Jr WR Donte Stallworth (41 receptions for 821 yards and 10 TDs) declared early for the NFL draft.  Starting TE John Finlayson (4 receptions for 34 yards), who was a pure blocking TE, also departed.  Former minor league baseball prospect, former football walk-on, and ultimately Biletnikoff Award candidate So WR Kelley Washington (64 receptions for 1,010 yards and 5 TDs), who made a tremendous splash in his rookie campaign, returns to lead the receiving corps.  Former backup TE Jr Jason Witten (28 receptions for 293 yards and 2 TDs) will replace Finlayson after posting an unusually productive season for a Volunteer TE.  Former backup WR RS Sr Leonard Scott (6 receptions for 72 yards and one TD) will likely replace Stallworth and start opposite Washington.  RS So WR Tony Brown and former backup QB RS Fr C.J. Fayton will backup Washington and Scott.  RS Fr TE Sudan Ellington will backup Witten.  The Volunteers will have an explosive receiving corps if they can find an adequate replacement for Stallworth. 

Tennessee lost its starting backfield, including surprising All-American TB Travis Stephens (291 carries for 1,464 yards and 10 TDs plus 19 receptions for 169 yards and one TD).  FB Will Bartholomew (10 receptions for 85 yards) also departed.  So TB Cedric Houston (18 carries for 107 yards and one TD) apparently will replace Stephens in the starting lineup.  Fellow So TBs Jabari Davis (11 carries for 60 yards and 2 TDs) and Derrick Tinsley (10 carries for 59 yards and one TD) plus RS Fr TB Keldrick Williams will also compete for action in what could be TB-by-committee, again very similar to what Boston College is facing without William Green. Former backup TB/FB RS Jr Troy Fleming (24 carries for 102 yards plus 10 receptions for 39 yards and 3 TDs) will replace Bartholomew.  RS Fr FB William Revill will backup Fleming.  Since Stephens monopolized carries last season, the returning backs, though talented, are inexperienced.  



Fulmer is old school.  Just as he employs a pro set offense, Fulmer uses a traditional 4-3 defense.  Four DL.  Three LBs.  And four DBs.  But he has the luxury of blue-chip talent across the board and doesn't need gimmicks.  Tennessee lost 6 starters from an outstanding defense: 

  • 20 points per game (#21 in Division 1A)
  • 304 yards per game (#13 in Division 1A)
  • 85 rushing yards per game (#3 in Division 1A)
  • 218 passing yards per game (#59 in Division 1A)

Tennessee is talented and deep in the LB unit with nearly a full two-deep of experienced players returning.  The Volunteers lost one starter – second-leading tackler MLB Dominique Stevenson (74 tackles, one sack, and one INT).  Leading tackler Sr OLB Eddie Moore (81 tackles, 2 sacks, and one INT) is the leader of the defense.  RS Sr OLB Keyon Whiteside (51 tackles and 2 sacks) was switched to MLB, where he likely will split time with Jr MLB Robert Peace (15 tackles).  Jr OLB Kevin Burnett (52 tackles and 3.5 sacks), who split time with Whiteside last season, will start opposite Moore.  Jr OLB Tony Campbell (22 tackles) and RS Fr OLB Jason Mitchell will backup Moore and Burnett.  The LB corps should anchor the defense this year. 

Tennessee lost only co-starters off an otherwise young secondary – CBs Teddy Gaines (29 tackles) and Andre Lott (28 tackles and one sack) split time and starts.  New Jersey-native Jr FS Rashad Baker (71 tackles and 4 INTs), Sr SS Julian Battle (60 tackles and 2 INTs), and So CB Jabari Greer (38 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and one INT) return.  Former starting CB RS Sr Willie Miles, who redshirted last season, will return to the starting lineup.  RS Sr SS Steven Marsh (14 tackles), Jr FS Mark Jones (37 tackles and one INT), RS So CB Corey Larkins (3 tackles), and RS Fr Robert Boulware will be the backups.  The veteran secondary should assist the LB corps in compensating for a depleted DLine. 

Tennessee lost its entire starting DLine, which happened to be the best in the country with the possible exception of Miami.  DT John Henderson (48 tackles and 4.5 sacks) and Jr DT Albert Haynesworth (36 tackles and 1.5 sacks), who declared early for the NFL draft, were first round NFL draft picks.  DE Will Overstreet (35 tackles and 5 sacks) was "only" a third round NFL draft pick.  DE Bernard Jackson (40 tackles and 3 sacks) also departed.  The Volunteers suffered a further loss when Sr DE Constantin Ritzmann (33 tackles and 4 sacks) suffered a season-ending ACL injury in summer camp.  Sr DE Omari Hand (21 tackles) and So DE Karlton Neal (2 tackles) will replace Overstreet and Jackson.  JUCO transfer Jr DE Mondre Dickerson and either RS Fr DE Wesley Holmes or RS Fr DE Ovince Saint Preuz will backup Hand and Neal.  RS Sr DT Rashad Moore (28 tackles and one INT), Sr DT Demetrin Veal (16 tackles and 4 sacks), Sr DT Aubrayo Franklin (14 tackles), and RS Sr DT Edward Kendrick will split time and starts in the interior.  The loss of Haynesworth really crippled a unit slated for heavy losses.  However, Fulmer rotated 12 players on his DLine so he has plenty of experience augmented by JUCO transfers.   



Tennessee returns its specialists virtually intact.  Former All-SEC PK RS Sr Alex Walls (15 of 20 FGAs and 39 of 39 XPAs) and All-SEC Freshman P RS So Dustin Colquitt (40 yards per punt) return to give the Volunteers a solid kicking game.  RS Sr WR/KOR Leonard Scott (21 yards per return) and Jr FS/PR Rashad Baker (9 yards per return) have five years of combined experience.  Strong special teams will be important with the daunting schedule that Tennessee faces.   



Tennessee has a full 12 game schedule with 8 home games.  Rutgers is one of two Big East teams that Tennessee plays.  The other is Miami, in one of the season's marquee games.  The SEC coaches have picked Tennessee to win the 6-team Eastern Division.  I predict that the Volunteers will finish 10-2 (6-2).  Tennessee won't play for the SEC Championship but will still earn a BCS bowl bid in the Orange Bowl against Florida State.  Tennessee can name the score against Rutgers, just as Miami and Virginia Tech usually can.   


August 31


September 7

Middle Tennessee

September 21


September 28


October 5


October 12

@ Georgia

October 26


November 2

@ South Carolina

November 9


November 16

@ Mississippi State

November 23

@ Vanderbilt

November 30


December 7

SEC Championship


Coming Next:  Non-Conference Preview, Part 5.  I'll finish my pre-season tour of the non-conference schedule with a look at Week 11 opponent – the tarnished Fighting Irish of Notre Dame.  I'll review lost starters, expected replacements, and incoming recruits.

Please send any comments to  I welcome and appreciate your feedback.

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