Vols to open Sept. 1 at UCLA

Head coach Phillip Fulmer termed "tremendous" the news that Tennessee will open its football season with a West Coast road game for the second year in a row.

The Big Orange, a 45-31 loser at California in the 2007 opener, will play at UCLA Monday, Sept. 1 in the 2008 opener. The Vols and Bruins originally were scheduled to meet Sept. 6. The change was made to accommodate ESPN, which will televise the UT-UCLA game at 5 p.m. Pacific (8 p.m. Eastern).

Moving the UCLA game also forced Tennessee to move its home opener vs. Alabama-Birmingham – previously scheduled for Aug. 30 – to Sept. 13. That was to be an open date on the original UT schedule.

The rest of Tennessee's schedule, beginning with Florida on Sept. 20 in Knoxville, is unchanged.

Although the opening loss at Cal got the Vols' 2007 season off to a rocky start, Fulmer has no qualms about opening '08 with another Left Coast road test.

"The announcement that we are going to play UCLA on the Monday night slot is just tremendous," the head man said following a rain-shortened Tuesday practice at Haslam Field. "We're excited as can be about that. I just told the players (the deal is done) a little bit ago, and they were real pleased to be the only show on television on a Monday night. That's exciting for us."

As the only football telecast scheduled for Sept. 1, Tennessee and UCLA should attract fans of college football in general, not just Vol and Bruin supporters.

Fulmer noted that the greatest benefit is "the exposure you're going to get from a national standpoint to play a very respected Pac 10 team like UCLA. We have a good history of great games with them, going all the way back to the mid-1960s.

"Playing in the Rose Bowl on that Monday night slot, basically all of America that's interested in sports would be tuning in at some point."

Tennessee often schedules an open date before facing SEC rival Florida. The shift of the UAB game from Aug. 30 to Sept. 13, however, eliminates the extra week of preparation for the Gators in 2008. Fulmer is OK with that.

"That open date has probably helped at times and it's hurt at times," the Vol coach said. "Every year has its own chemistry. If you're playing good, you want to keep playing. If you've had a bunch of injuries, you wish you had the open date. But I don't have a crystal ball to know (which will be the case)."

The double-switch leaves Tennessee with an open date before UAB, which does not project to be one of the Vols' tougher foes.

"We should get a great game against a really quality opponent (UCLA)," Fulmer said, "and then have a week to work to get better for UAB and Florida and that stretch there."

The departure of four-year starter Erik Ainge means Tennessee will be breaking in a new quarterback – presumably junior Jonathan Crompton – in a nationally televised road game against a top-25 caliber opponent. That isn't the ideal situation but Fulmer isn't worried.

"That's one consideration we certainly looked at," the coach said, "but not a lot of things bother Jonathan."

With Ainge injured, Crompton nearly guided Tennessee to an upset of LSU in 2006. The Vols led late but a controversial no-fumble call involving Tiger QB JaMarcus Russell enabled LSU to score in the final nine seconds and win. Crompton made his only career start the next week at Arkansas but was swarmed under by a relentless Razorback pass rush.

"He came within an official missed-turnover of beating LSU," Fulmer said of Crompton, "and then he had an experience at Arkansas that we'd probably both like to forget.

"He's played enough football (that he won't be intimidated)," Fulmer said. "I'm not concerned about him. We have enough of an experienced football team (to handle a road opener)."

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