Can UT handle hype?

Tennessee's 2004 football team proved it could handle inexperience at quarterback and cornerback. It proved it could handle modest expectations by winning the SEC East, going 10-3 and pounding Texas A&M 38-7 in the Cotton Bowl.

Now the 2005 team faces a completely different challenge: Can it handle the hype?

Unlike the 2004 squad, the 2005 Vols have proven players at quarterback and cornerback. They have 18 starters back from last year and some lofty expectations. So lofty, in fact, that you wonder if they'll let the prospect of a run at the national title go to their heads.

Well, head coach Phillip Fulmer thinks his troops can handle the hype just fine.

''I don't think that's a concern,'' he said. ''We'll have to handle that as a team, and hopefully we will. I think we have a mature enough group of guys to do that.''

Whereas UT was generally projected to be an 8-4, 7-5 type team last year, the 2005 Vols are being projected as a 10-1 or 11-0 caliber of team. That can be a plus or a minus, depending on how the players respond to the challenge of meeting such projections.

''We WANT to be one of those teams that's talked about at the end of the year,'' Fulmer said. ''But it's not even the beginning yet. We've got a lot of work to do.''

One area needing work between now and fall is team unity and discipline. The Vols have made headlines in recent months with some unsavory off-field incidents.

''We need to come together with our chemistry,'' Fulmer said, noting there is a problem with some players ''not being committed to being the best they can be -- whether it be an off-field incident or not going to class or missing rehab.

''If you're not taking care of business, you're not really trying to win all your games.''

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