Redemption at hand?

Tennessee's long wait for a chance at redemption is nearing an end. The Vols take the field Saturday against California riding a one-game winning streak, although victories were more difficult to come by during the 2005 season than at any point in head coach Phillip Fulmer's 15-year tenure.

Tennessee finished 5-6 overall despite the closing win over Kentucky for its first losing season since 1988.

But Saturday offers a chance to start anew.

"It literally seemed like it never would get here and finally we are really close to game time," Fulmer said. "I am as excited as can be for this football team to see where we are. I want to see if we're ready to meet the challenges of a really fine Cal football team.

"There are so many of our phases out there that have improved. We had a very good Thursday practice."

The Vols worked for 1 hour and 40 minutes inside the Neyland-Thompson Sports Center on a soggy Knoxville afternoon. The practice was Tennessee's 27th and final session of the month, wrapping up an off-season that has the squad eager to show 2005 was a one-year exception to the Big Orange tradition.

"It should be a really fun football game," Fulmer said. "We will know where we stand because, obviously, we have great respect for Cal."

Fulmer added that his team was relatively injury-free entering the new season. He was asked if this was the healthiest group he ever has coached.

"Ever? That's a long time here," he said. "We're pretty healthy. I wish Jerod Mayo's ankle wasn't sore at all and it is. We've got those three or four guys out. And I'd like to have Walter Fisher out there.

"But we're pretty darn healthy and that's despite having a very physical spring and a physical fall camp. There has been a mindset of toughness and our kids have tried to operate that way."

The Vols head coach celebrates his 56th birthday Friday.

INJURY UPDATE (California Week): Probable -- LB Jerod Mayo (ankle), OG Jacques McClendon (ankle); Questionable -- LB LaMarcus Thompson (ankle); Out -- DB Roshaun Fellows (shoulder); DE Walter Fisher (shoulder), DE Jared Hostetter (knee), OG Cameron Mayo (knee), TB Ja?Kouri Williams (ankle).

MANNING CELEBRITY BLOGGER ON NCAA FOOTBALL SITE

Former Tennessee All-America quarterback Peyton Manning will be the guest celebrity Friday on the NCAA Football Web Log at www.EveryGameCounts.blogspot.com.

Earlier in the week, the blog featured a discussion on tailgating and named Tennessee one of the best places for tailgaters in college football.


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