Top 25 countdown
The Times’ Chris Dufresne unveils his preseason college football top 25, one day (and team) at a time:
No. 17 Tennessee
It’s been a decade since Phil Fulmer and Tennessee won the national title with Tee Martin, not Peyton Manning, at quarterback.
And that can only mean one thing in Knoxville.
When is Tennessee going to win another one?
Answer: not this year. Not in that conference, the Southeastern.
Since 1998, in the SEC, Louisiana State has won two national titles, Florida has won once and Auburn went 13-0 and didn’t win in 2004.
Hasn’t Fulmer exhausted his 10-year title insurance?
The answer, “no,” came last month in the form of a raise and contract extension.
Tennessee last season finished 10-4 with a win over Wisconsin in the Outback Bowl but it sure didn’t feel like 10-4, which is why some Volunteers fans are antsy.
Meanwhile, Fulmer can count his money and his lucky stars.
It took four overtimes to beat Kentucky last year, and South Carolina and Vanderbilt missed late field goals that could have spelled defeat.
Tennessee, though, also clobbered Georgia and played LSU to within seven in the SEC title game.
Fulmer’s contract will award him an additional $850,000 if Tennessee wins the national title this year, but that seems like safe money.
The Volunteers may be just as good this year but not win as many games -- although they’re almost a lock to win at least one.
After getting embarrassed in last year’s opener at California, Tennessee will probably exact brutal revenge against the Pacific 10 Conference and Ben Olson-less UCLA in the Sept. 1 opener at the Rose Bowl.
The level of talent Tennessee will unleash on UCLA’s defenseless offense is almost frightening. That click you heard was first-year Bruins Coach Rick Neuheisel turning off the film projector.
The rest of Tennessee’s season won’t be a snap, though, with Florida coming to town Sept. 20, followed a week later by a trip to Auburn. The Vols also play at top-rated Georgia on Oct. 11.
The Tennessee offense returns almost every important starter except quarterback Erik Ainge, although Jonathan Crompton, a talented junior, has patiently waited for this chance.