Harrell will play vs. Florida, then undergo surgery to repair a torn bicep and miss the remainder of the season. Johnson already underwent surgery to repair ruptured blood vessels and nerve damage; he will not play again this year.
Mayo gets additional motivation from the fact many observers projected the linebacker corps – minus all three starters from 2005 – to be the weak link for Tennessee in 2006.
"The linebackers came into this season with everybody saying we were going to be the weakness of the team," he says. "Now we feel like we have to step up and show we're going to be one of the strengths of this team."
Florida has won two of the last three meetings in Knoxville, prevailing 27-23 in 2000 and 30-13 in 2002. Tennessee needed a last-second 50-yard field goal by James Wilhoit to win a 30-28 squeaker in 2004. Florida took last year's game 16-7 in Gainesville but Sears says that has absolutely no bearing on this year's showdown.
"We're up here on our territory now," he says. "We're not down there in Gatorville. They're coming up here, and we're taking the challenge very well."
Some quotes attributed to Florida players this week suggest the Gators don't have a great deal of respect for Tennessee. Sears shrugged when asked if he thinks that is the case.
"I don't know if they've got respect for us or not," he said. "But I don't really care."