It's a 'business trip' for UT

The fact Tennessee opens its 2007 football season on the road tonight should favor home-standing California. But don't count on it. The Vols routinely play better on the road than at home.

Consider:

- Tennessee has lost to Florida in three of the last four meetings at Knoxville but has won two of the last three meetings at Gainesville.

- Tennessee has lost to Georgia three consecutive times at Knoxville but has won two times in a row at Athens.

- Tennessee lost to Miami 26-3 at Knoxville in 2002 but avenged itself 10-6 a year later on the Hurricanes' home field.

- Tennessee lost to Vanderbilt 28-24 in 2005 at Knoxville but trounced the Commodores 39-10 last fall at Nashville.

- Tennessee lost to South Carolina 16-15 in 2005 at Knoxville but avenged that setback by winning 31-24 last year at Columbia.

- Tennessee thumped Kentucky 27-8 in 2005 at Lexington but was lucky to squeak by 17-12 last year in Knoxville.

- Tennessee beat LSU 30-27 in 2005 at Baton Rouge but lost 28-24 in the 2006 rematch at Knoxville.

Given all of the above, playing the 2007 opener at California doesn't seem like such a big deal for the Vols. They have been "road warriors" in recent years.

"We talk about that," head coach Phillip Fulmer said this week. "I think it's a mindset you have."

Certainly, the Vols face some significant hurdles in playing Cal. First, they had to travel 2,109 miles to Berkeley. They had to adjust to a three-hour change in time zones. They must deal with Cal's undersized locker rooms. Then they must ignore a hostile crowd while battling the No. 12 team in America.

Fulmer said the key is that the Vols are "mature enough as a football team that locker rooms or crowds or having a little bit of travel or inconvenience is blocked out of your mind. It's part of the process."

The fact Fulmer is such a low-key guy may contribute to that process. He is not easily ruffled, and his players reflect their coach's approach.

"They don't see me like this," Fulmer said, making an up-and-down motion with his hand, "so they stay on a pretty level keel. And they look forward to the challenge. We make it a challenge for them to handle the crowd and enjoy the moment that they have."

Fulmer routinely tells his players to treat a road game like a business trip. Several Vols believe this approach has contributed greatly to their success in hostile venues.

"I think it serves us real well," sophomore receiver Austin Rogers said earlier this week. "We do have a great road record, going back a long time before I came here. We prepare well and we have good focus on the road. We treat it like a business trip, like Coach Fulmer says. We're very focused – in and out of meetings – and we're all about business."

Junior linebacker Jerod Mayo believes the Vols are generally unaffected by a game's location.

"I'm not sure it makes that much of a difference playing on road," he said. "It's a business trip, and that's how we're looking at it. We're not going out there to have fun or partake in any leisurely activities. We're just going out there to play football.

"This team has always done an excellent job with away games, handling them as business trips. This is no different. This is a business trip. There's no social events or anything like that we're going to. We're going out there to handle business and, hopefully, we're going to get it done."

Senior linebacker Ryan Karl also touched on the business-trip theme when asked about UT's road success.

"I think we just travel well," he said. "We put on our business suits and go there for business. We don't go to look at other campuses and do all of that. We don't stay up all night. We just go take care of business. I think that's the big thing."

Apparently oblivious to Tennessee's recent road record, oddsmakers have installed Cal as a six-point favorite. Mayo finds that amusing.

"I'm not surprised at all," he said, flashing a soft grin. "I pretty much prefer to be the underdog. Every time Tennessee is picked to be the underdog, we go out and play some of our best games. Hopefully, that tradition will continue this year."

Asked why the Vols traditionally play better as an underdog, Mayo grinned again.

"Any time people pick you to lose, that has to be another chip on your shoulder," he said. "That's how we're taking it."


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