KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer knows what it takes to win a championship, and sees many of those ingredients in the 2005 Volunteers.

Fulmer has two proven winners to pick from at quarterback.

He likes his offensive line, receivers, tailback, defensive line and linebackers. He even thinks the fullback may be one of the best in the country, and he’s got confidence in his kickers.

Apparently, many people share Fulmer’s opinion.

Ranked No. 3 in the country, the Vols open the season Sept. 3 at home against UAB as the favorite in the Southeastern Conference championship.

“It’s very difficult to argue with the folks who think we have a chance to be good,” Fulmer said.

Tennessee went 10-3 with a relatively young team a year ago, losing twice to unbeaten Auburn, the second time in the SEC championship game.

“When we were in Atlanta we were like, Hey man, first week in December we need to be right back here playing in the Georgia Dome,”‘ linebacker Kevin Simon said. “Everyone is thinking we have to get back to the SEC championship game.”

The last time Tennessee won the SEC title in 1998, the Vols also went undefeated and won a national title.

The Vols got a big boost that season from a strong offensive line and running game. Four of this year’s linemen were starters in 2004.

“I think we’ve got as good a group there as we’ve had in some time as a whole,” said Fulmer, a former offensive lineman for Tennessee.

Junior Arron Sears, who played tackle and guard last year, headlines the group.

Senior Gerald Riggs finally gets his chance to be the main ball carrier.

Riggs shared duties last season with Cedric Houston and racked up 1,107 yards on 193 rushes and six touchdowns. Not Riggs is on his own.

Fulmer says he expects “big things” from Riggs, but he’s also looking for solid backups.

The tailbacks should get some good blocking from fullback Cory Anderson, a 6-foot-3, 275-pounder who can also catch and run.

Who will be handing Riggs the ball is the great mystery for Tennessee.

Senior Rick Clausen and sophomore Erik Ainge each started games last season. Clausen took over after Ainge and freshman Brent Schaeffer went down with injuries. Schaeffer has transferred, and Ainge has recovered from a separated shoulder.

“It’s a great situation to be in,” Clausen said.

“No matter who it is, we’re going to win football games.”

The QBs are fairly similar – Ainge is a bigger version of Clausen with a more powerful arm.

They’ll have plenty of experienced players on the receiving end of their passes.

Robert Meachem is back after leading the team with 459 yards receiving; Bret Smith had the most touchdown catches with five.

Tennessee’s defense has some stars and a couple of soft spots. Three of last year’s starters on the line are back, including tackle Jesse Mahelona, who led the SEC with 181/2 tackles for a loss.

Simon takes over at middle linebacker after sitting out last year with a knee injury.

He led the team in 2003 with 115 tackles, and Fulmer calls him one of the most dominating players the Vols have had.

“He’s a real key to us,” Fulmer said.

The secondary was a problem last season and their are still question marks. Opponents averaged 236 yards passing a game and had 19 touchdown passes.

Jason Allen is the one sure thing. He decided to stay for his senior season instead of leaving early for the NFL, and he’s moved from safety to cornerback.

“I’m very hopeful we’ll start this season at a level of play that we never reached last season because we gave up entirely too many big plays and too many first downs and too many easy plays,” Fulmer said.

Tennessee has a new punter, but from a familiar family. Britton Colquitt, the fourth member of his family to punt for the Vols, follows older brother Dustin, who was drafted this spring in the third round by the Kansas City Chiefs.

The Vols will need to solve their problems quick because of a rough early schedule. After UAB and an open week, Tennessee has back-to-back games at Florida and LSU. They also face Notre Dame and Alabama on the road.

“We know we’re going to do well,” Riggs said.

“Everybody has their own personal goals or whatnot, but fortunately for us all the guys on this team understand what it takes to win ball games and that’s coming together.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.