NFL dreams to blame for bowl debacles?

If all of <!--Default For Tennessee is to ignore-->Tennessee's 2002 and 2003 seniors had been as focused on preparing for a bowl as they were on preparing for pro careers, the Vols might not have suffered humiliating Peach Bowl losses to <!--Default NodeId For Maryland is 357,2004--><A HREF=>Maryland</A> (30-3) and <!--Default NodeId For Clemson is 70855,2004--><A HREF=>Clemson</A> (27-14) the past two winters.

At least two players said Tuesday they thought some UT upperclassmen seemed distracted by thoughts of impressing NFL scouts in years past.

''The past couple of years, we had guys talking about the NFL, really looking forward to working out in the Combines and stuff like that,'' junior safety Jason Allen said.

Junior defensive end Jason Hall echoed those sentiments.

''Yeah, I heard some of the upperclassmen talking about the Combines,'' he said. ''I think they maybe looked past the bowl and didn't really given their best effort. That kinda' caused the team to slip a little bit.''

Fortunately for Tennessee, this year's seniors seem to be more focused on the task at hand -- beating Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl. There is no talk of NFL Combines this December.

''I don't see that at all from this team,'' Hall said. ''We had two guys that could've jumped to the NFL last year (Kevin Burnett, Michael Munoz) that decided to come back, so I don't sense that from this senior leadership at all. Everybody seems to want to come out here and get a bowl win, THEN worry about things having to do with the NFL after that.''

Allen agrees that this year's seniors are more focused on bowl preparations.

''I don't want to say it's a new era but it's a new group of guys than the guys that were playing in the Peach Bowl the last couple of years,'' he said. ''It's different guys playing in the Cotton Bowl, guys with different attitudes.

''This group of guys is not thinking about the NFL.... This year we don't have guys thinking about that, talking about that. They're talking about practicing in the cold weather and having a good time.''

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