Life in the SEC East

Being Eli Manning would be a pretty good gig if you weren't always being compared to a couple of high-profile relatives – Peyton and Archie – who garner even more respect than you do.

That's kind of the situation Tennessee's football team finds itself in heading into the 2008 season. The Vols are widely projected as one of the top 20 teams in America, yet they routinely are relegated to third place in their own division behind SEC East brethren Georgia and Florida.

Mark Schlabach of ESPN.com is the latest national columnist to give the Vols this type of limited endorsement. He pegs them No. 15 nationally but No. 3 in the East and No. 5 in the conference (behind Georgia, Florida, Auburn and LSU).

Schlabach, a University of Georgia graduate who covered the Dawgs for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution before joining the ESPN ranks, pegs Big Ten power Ohio State – a BCS Championship Game loser to Florida and LSU each the last two years, respectively – as his preseason No. 1 for 2008.

He tabs his alma mater No. 2, with Oklahoma, Southern Cal and Florida rounding out the top five. The rest of Schlabach's top 10 consists of Missouri, Clemson, Texas, West Virginia and Auburn.

Defending national champ LSU is No. 12 and Tennessee No. 15. Here's what Schlabach has to say about the Vols:

15. Tennessee Volunteers

Coach Phillip Fulmer overhauled much of his coaching staff and brought in Richmond's Dave Clawson to install a spread offense. New quarterback Jonathan Crompton looked good running the attack this spring, but he underwent elbow surgery shortly after practices ended. Safeties Eric Berry and Demetrice Morley are star players in the secondary, but replacing linebacker Jerod Mayo won't be easy. The Volunteers might be third-best in the SEC East behind Georgia and Florida.

Schlabach apparently sees a drop-off after the Vols at No. 15. He does not list any SEC programs among the final 10 teams in his projected top 25.

Schlabach's complete preseason rankings can be viewed at ESPN.com in a story entitled "Buckeyes rise to No. 1 in updated Top 25."


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