Fulmer fancies facing Florida

Phillip Fulmer doesn't need to check the schedule to know when Florida week arrives each year.

''There's always a lot of hype around it,'' Tennessee's head football coach said this week. ''It's the first big gme for both teams usually, and it's the first big SEC game for each of us. For a lot of years, it was us or them (winning the SEC title).''

Georgia emerged as the league champ last year, however, thanks in large part to down years for the Vols and Gators -- each of whom finished 8-5. Both programs appear on the rise again heading into this Saturday's matchup in Gainesville.

''Both teams are good,'' Fulmer said, ''and right now both of us are trying to re-establish ourselves in the conference.''

Although he stands 3-8 in 11 games against Florida, Tennessee's head man relishes the rivalry with the Gators.

''I like big games, and this is one of the biggest,'' Fulmer said. ''I've enjoyed this series (although) it's not turned out the way I wanted it to every time.''

One of the key elements of the UT-Florida game is the fact it usually is the SEC opener for each school. Starting 1-0 in conference play is a big boost, so the SEC opener has a special flavor that preconference games lack.

''Yeah, it's always huge when you open the Southeastern Conference,'' Fulmer said. ''When I was playing here we opened with Auburn every year and, regardless of how big the first games were, that was the one the coaches always pointed to.

''It's been the same with this (Florida) series. Regardless of whether you play Syracuse, UCLA or whoever early, you're still practicing to play against Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Auburn and those people.''

Fulmer has a 1-4 record at ''The Swamp'' but the victory came on his last visit to Gainesville. His 2001 Vols whipped Florida 34-32 in what proved to be Steve Spurrier's SEC swan song. Can that victory help the 2003 Vols on their foray into the Sunshine State?

''I think it helps,'' Fulmer said. ''We've got a number of guys now that were on that team ... but not THAT many.''

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