SI Ranks Tennessee No. 11

One day after Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer announced a pair of true freshmen quarterbacks were bracketed as the Vols No. 1 signal caller, Sports Illustrated demonstrated the why of that decision with the release of its 2004 college football preview.

In their first five games the Vols play three of the nation's top 13 teams according to SI in No. 4 Georgia, No. 6 Florida and No. 13 Auburn. Tennessee checks in at No. 11 while no other opponent on its schedule is ranked in the nation's top 25.

Any hopes of winning a title depend on the Vols roaring out of the gate against rigorous competition. Tennessee hasn't beaten Florida in Knoxville since 1998 and hasn't defeated Georgia since 1999. Additionally, Auburn inflicted one of the two regular season losses UT suffered last season. In order to remain a viable contender for the SEC East Division crown, the Vols must win two of these three critical contests. In order to accomplish that tall order, the offense must be balanced and productive.

Brent Schaeffer and Eric Ainge bring talents to the table that can keep defenses honest instead of selling out to the run. Ainge's quick release and excellent arm strength allows him to stretch a defense both vertically and horizontally, while Schaeffer's mobility buys time and puts pressure on the defense to stop his dashes up field in critical down and distance situations.

S.I names redshirt wide receiver Robert Meachem as UT's breakout player and lists Michael Munoz, Cedric Houston, Kevin Simon, Kevin Burnett and Dustin Colquitt as the key returnees. In fact a lot of space is dedicated to Cedric Houston who appears in danger of losing his grip on the starting job and may have to make up ground to figure into the tailback rotation with the emergence of Gerald Riggs and Cory Larkins in addition to the power inside running of Jabari Davis.

No Tennessee player is picked for SI's all-American team which is surprising with Colquitt returning as the Ray Guy runner up.

In its college countdown at 40 is the average number of times Tennessee's band plays Rocky Top during a game. Florida QB Chris Leak is rated No. 4 on SI's Heisman watch list behind USC QB Matt Leinhart, Kansas State running back Darren Sproles and Oklahoma senior signal caller Jason White.

SI's top ten are: USC, Oklahoma, LSU, Georgia, Miami, Florida, Texas, Ohio State, Florida State and Kansas State. Following Tennessee at No. 11 are Michigan, Auburn, Missouri, Iowa, Clemson, Maryland, Oregon, Utah, West Virginia, Nebraska, Cal, Minnesota, TCU and Toledo.


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