UT at 'championship level'

Preparing for season-ending games against also-rans Vanderbilt and Kentucky is one thing. Preparing for Saturday's SEC Championship Game against undefeated Auburn is a whole different animal.

Phillip Fulmer noticed the difference as soon as his Vols opened preparations for the Auburn game earlier this week.

''Our focus is back,'' Tennessee's head man said. ''We played hard and we practiced well (for Vandy and UK), but there is a difference when you practice at a championship level and play at a championship level than when you're getting ready for a team (Vandy) that hasn't scored on you in three years. It's just different. That's human nature.''

The excitement level Fulmer noted in practice this week reminds him of the 1987 season.

''It was one of the most amazing things I've ever seen,'' he said. ''We had a very good team but we were second in the conference to Georgia or somebody, then THEY got beat. All of a sudden the practice intensity went out the ceiling. That's just human nature; they saw an opportunity (to win a title).

''As a coach, you'd like to see that all the time. I saw that yesterday (Monday).''

Now that the Vols are practicing at a championship level, the question is: Can they PLAY at a championship level? They'd better, or Saturday's game could be a virtual replay of the 34-10 shellacking they took the last time they hooked up with Tommy Tuberville's Tigers.

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