Fulmer's true to his seniors

Tennessee's quest for an SEC championship fell short. Its bid for a BCS berth never materialized. Now, with one game remaining, a top-10 national ranking is out of reach.

Given this set of circumstances, some folks believe Tennessee head coach Phillip Fulmer should turn the page ... shifting his focus from the end of this season to the start of next season. They believe he should go with a youth movement in the upcoming Outback Bowl game against Wisconsin. They believe the seven senior starters who won't be back next year should not be starting against the Badgers Jan. 1 in Tampa.

It's an interesting, though somewhat far-fetched concept – use the last game of this season as a tuneup for the first game of next season. Basically, here's what would happen:

- Sophomore Jonathan Crompton would start ahead of senior Erik Ainge at quarterback.

- Sophomore Jeff Cottam would start ahead of senior Brad Cottam at tight end.

- Freshman Kevin Cooper would start ahead of senior Chris Brown at H-back.

- Sophomore Wes Brown would start ahead of senior Xavier Mitchell at left defensive end.

- Junior Robert Ayers would start ahead of senior Antonio Reynolds at right defensive end.

- Junior Adam Myers-White would start ahead of senior Ryan Karl (who is nursing a wrist injury) at strongside linebacker.

- Sophomore Antonio Wardlow would start ahead of senior Jonathan Hefney at free safety.

It's no secret that Fulmer is loyal – some say to a fault – to his senior players. That's why the scenario above never had a chance of becoming reality. As expected, the Outback Bowl depth chart shows all seven first-team seniors scheduled to answer the opening bell against Wisconsin.

Naturally, those seniors are pleased about this. The Outback Bowl will be the final college game for each of them, and they don't care to spend it on the bench.

"It means a lot," Xavier Mitchell said. "We're still a part of this program, and Coach Fulmer understands that. He's been in these shoes. He played here. He definitely understands how we feel and how we want to cap this season off."

After investing four years in the program, the outgoing seniors probably have even more motivation to win than their underclass understudies. That's another reason for them to be in their starting positions when Jan. 1 arrives.

As Mitchell put it: "We definitely want to finish this season the right way – not only for this university but for our seniors who are leaving. "


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