Vols back in SEC East race

With a grin on his face and a bounce in his step, head coach Phillip Fulmer strolled into Tennessee's team meeting room earlier this week and shouted three words:

"War Damn Eagle!"

The reference, of course, was to Auburn's 20-17 upset of third-ranked Florida last Saturday in Gainesville. The victory threw the SEC East race into total chaos, leaving five of the six division teams tied with one loss apiece. Only Kentucky, 1-0 in league play, has yet to taste defeat in conference action.

No one was happier to see Auburn upset Florida than Tennessee. The Gators' blowout of the Vols three weeks ago in Gainesville put a serious dent in Tennessee's SEC East hopes but Auburn's defeat of Florida repaired that dent. In fact, if the Gators lose again this weekend at top-ranked LSU – a distinct possibility – the Vols can claim the Eastern Division title merely by winning the rest of their conference games. That quest starts this Saturday against visiting Georgia.

"The conference race is wide open again," Fulmer said earlier today. "This game with Georgia, even this early in the season, certainly has championship implications. There's a lot of football yet to be played but this game – being that both of us have a loss – is crucial."

Offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe conceded that Florida's loss provided a lift – not just for the Vols but for everyone else in their division.

"I think everybody in the East probably responded to that because Florida has set the tempo," Cutcliffe said. "I think that certainly energized all of us in the East. It energized our team. We've only played the one conference game, so it's all in front of us."

Junior receiver Josh Briscoe conceded that Florida's loss has provided some extra incentive for the Vols in practice this week.

"It gives us a little bit more motivation," he said. "It just lets us know that any week in the SEC anything can happen. We've just got to take it, go out and win. If we win our games in the SEC from here on out, we can win the East. We know that. That's been our motivation."

Junior guard Anthony Parker broke into a grin when asked about Auburn's upset of Florida.

"I felt good about it," he said. "It puts everybody on an equal playing field again. All of the teams in the East have tough schedules left, so, really, it's anybody's game."

Tennessee faces Georgia at 3:30 Eastern Time this Saturday, so a win could give the Vols a vested interest in the Florida-LSU telecast (7:28 Central on CBS).

"As of right now, all we can do is take care of our own business and make sure we get our W's," Parker said. "We know we've got to take care of our business, and the rest will take care of itself."


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