Vols talking title

Tennessee's football players are talking the talk. Can they walk the walk?

Even with the 2005 opener five months away, several Vols admit they're already thinking about conference and national titles.

''Everybody's got the same attitude -- winning the SEC championship and the national championship,'' senior defensive back Jason Allen said. ''We want to set high goals and standards for ourselves, and it starts here in the offseason.''

The Vols are riding an emotional high after thrashing Texas A&M 38-7 in the Cotton Bowl game last January. Might they be a bit too confident?

''I think we should have a lot of confidence and cockiness about us, but not TOO much,'' Allen said. ''We have to feel like we can play with anybody in the country if we take care of ourselves. That's the biggest thing: Just take care of ourselves.''

One key to the 2005 season is replacing the leadership of departed linebacker Kevin Burnett. Allen thinks this can be accomplished if one thing happens.

''Everybody takes care of their job, their responsibility,'' he said. ''It's going to happen in the offseason. It's not going to happen in two-a-days or the regular season. Guys need to take upon themselves to do what's right, on and off the field.

With 18 of 22 starters returning from 2004, Tennessee has the most talent it's had since 2002, when the Vols were one win from playing for the national title ... only to lose to LSU in the SEC Championship Game. What did they learn from that gut-wrenching experience that might help this go-around?

''Stay humble and hungry and stay focused on the objective in front of you,'' Allen said. ''A lot of guys start thinking about the NFL too early and lose their focus. They're thinking about the NFL, not thinking about the job at hand.''

Senior quarterback Rick Clausen didn't specifically mention any titles. Still, he believes the Vols have a healthy level of confidence that could springboard them to a big season in 2005.

''I think the biggest thing is, we know what we're capable of,'' he said. ''Coming off the Cotton Bowl win was extremely important to this football team. I think it jump-started the enthusiasm and jump-started everybody's mindset that this year's going to be different from every other year we've been here.''

Although the Vols haven't won anything yet, the hoopla surrounding the team is not going to be a distraction.

''All the preseason hype is just hype,'' Clausen said. ''We have goals set for ourselves this year. No pressure the media puts on us can match the pressure we put on ourselves every day to go out there and get better.''

Sophomore receiver Robert Meachem has only been on campus two seasons but he, too, thinks the 2005 season can be a memorable one.

''I feel like we've got a shot at the national championship,'' he said. ''But we've got to take it one game at a time. Everybody needs to stay humble, stay like a family. If everybody praises God, we've got a good chance of doing it.''

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