Undaunted 'dogs

Being installed as 28-point underdogs in Saturday's game at No. 1 Florida neither angers nor surprises the Tennessee Vols. Basically, their reaction can be summed up in two words ... ho hum.

"We're underdogs. That's the history of Tennessee," All-America safety Eric Berry said. "Everyone always says we're No. 3 in the East ... never picked to win the East. That's one of the reasons I came here. I like being the underdog. I like being the dog on the bottom, having to fight his way to the top. We just have to go out there and try to prove them wrong."

Senior linebacker Rico McCoy was similarly unaffected by the oddsmakers' judgment.

"The game is still going to be played," he said. "It's just a number they threw up there before the game. We determine if that happens or not."

Junior defensive end Chris Walker was a little more emotional than Berry and McCoy but not by much.

"If that's what they think, that's their opinion," he said. "We've just got to go out there and prove them wrong. If we don't play well they might be (right) but I think this coaching staff is going to do a good job getting us ready for anything they could throw at us."

When a reporter pointed out that being a 28-point underdog essentially means oddsmakers give the Vols no chance to win, however, Walker's mood turned a little darker.

"We have a lot of really good competitors on this team for people not to give us a chance," he said somberly.

The Vols lost a lot of respect in the eyes of most observers when they lost 19-15 at home to UCLA last weekend. Tennessee's players seem to understand this but they still don't like it.

"It's something we have to work for ... to go out and earn the respect of people," Walker said. "To see the lack of respect we have and the chances that we're given is something that's really going to motivate us."

Head coach Lane Kiffin seems undaunted by the 28-point spread, although he admitted it's a new experience for him. He has never coached a team that was such a decided underdog.

"No, I don't think anywhere close," he said. "It is unique that way. But I think I kind of like it for our players. I think it kind of takes the pressure off. It's almost like screwing up that game Saturday has taken some of the pressure off ... the buildup for it, I guess."

Kiffin isn't above using the spread to fire up his team, however. Freshman receiver Nu'keese Richardson said the head man made a point to mention the Vols' status as a decided underdog to the players.

"He reminded us that we're underdogs and everybody's expecting us to do bad," Richardson said. "We've got to go in and take something, try to make a statement."

Asked if he likes being the underdog, Richardson nodded.

"Definitely," he said. "The underdog role sometimes can be good."

Only if you don't play like one.


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