No place like home

Tennessee has won its first three home football games of 2007 by an average margin of 20.7 points. That obviously bodes well for the Vols when they host South Carolina tonight at 7:45.

"I hope so," UT head coach Phillip Fulmer said earlier this week. "I hope the fans are there loud and proud, making it tough on South Carolina. That's very helpful."

Tennessee has been remarkably consistent at home this fall – beating Southern Miss by 20 points (39-19) in Game 2, Arkansas State by 21 (49-28) in Game 4 and Georgia by 21 (35-14) in Game 5.

Still, the Vols have a long way to go to approach the home-field dominance they exhibited during the late 1990s. The Big Orange won 31 of 32 games played on Shields-Watkins Field between 1995 and 1999.

Here's a season-by-season recap:

7-0 in '95

5-1 in '96

6-0 in '97

6-0 in '98

7-0 in '99

Tennessee was still potent at home in 2000 and 2001, going 5-1 each year. Between 2002 and 2006, however, the Vols' home-field advantage eroded considerably.

2002: Tennessee went 4-3 at home, with the losses coming by lopsided margins against Florida (30-13), Alabama (34-14) and Miami (26-3).

2003: Tennessee went 6-1 at home but the setback was a 41-14 shellacking at the hands of Georgia.

2004: Tennessee went 5-2 at home but the losses were a 34-10 drubbing at the hands of Auburn and a 17-13 loss to unranked Notre Dame.

2005: Tennessee went 3-3 at home, suffering its first loss in more than two decades to Vanderbilt.

2006: Tennessee went 5-2 at home but barely beat Air Force (31-30), Alabama (16-13) and Kentucky (17-12) – all of whom were unranked.

Reclaiming their home-field advantage was a preseason priority for the Vols this fall, and they are honoring that pledge to date. Junior defensive end Robert Ayers says he and his teammates can't take anything for granted, however.

"It's the SEC, so you never get too comfortable, no matter where you're playing," he said. "Mississippi State went in and beat Auburn at Auburn, which is a pretty tough place to win. People get beat everywhere on a given Saturday, so you've got to have your A-game ready."

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