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The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

    Tennessee Vols set to make their case for Fiesta Bowl

    The Tennessee Volunteers are expected to continue their winning ways this season, as they are ranked fifth nationally in the AP preseason poll. After losing 12 of 22 position players from a 2001 campaign in which they finished fourth in the nation, the Vols look to their two potential Heisman Trophy contenders for production.
    The first of these is Casey Clausen. The junior quarterback known as “Ice Man” boasts a 17-3 record as a starter including a perfect 8-0 record in away games. Since winning the top quarterbacking spot several games into the 2000 season, Clausen has put up numbers similar to those of Peyton Manning. In fact, in comparison to Manning’s first two years, Clausen has bettered him by 347 passing yards and four touchdowns completions.
    As a sophomore, Clausen displayed the maturity of a veteran by completing 64.1% of his passes. He also demonstrated his composure under pressure by pulling out four fourth-quarter comebacks, the most important of which was in Gainesville against the Gators.
    Look for Clausen to break school records here and there as he leads his team through one of the toughest schedules in the nation. Also look for sophomore wide receiver Kelley Washington to catch more than his share of passes from Clausen. A long shot for the Heisman, Washington is pure athlete. After playing shortstop and third base in the minor leagues for the Florida Marlins’ franchise, Washington went back to school to play football. Washington had played quarterback in high school, but his ability to run the forty-yard dash in 4.3 seconds helped to ensure a smooth transition to wide receiver.
    His first start came in the 2001 regular season against LSU. In that outing, Washington broke a 35-year-old Volunteer record for reception yardage in a single game by catching 11 passes for 256 yards. With that performance, Washington staked his claim as a freshman as the number one receiver and never looked back.
    Now that Tennessee’s workhorse of the past, Travis Stephens, has graduated to the NFL, the Vols’ running game is questionable. Junior fullback Troy Fleming is the most experienced of those likely to see action at the position. He will be the man when UT runs from the one-back set. Assisting him in running duties is a trio of sophomores who showed potential as freshmen. Cedric Houston, Jabari Davis, and Derrick Tinsley made the most of their few opportunities in 2001, each averaging nearly six yards per carry. That is a deceiving stat, however, when you consider that they and Fleming combined for 63 carries all year in comparison with Stephens’ 291 by himself.
    Expect many of Tennessee’s battles at the line of scrimmage to be won by whichever team has the ball. UT is returning seven offensive linemen who saw starting action in 2001, so the coaching staff will have plenty of experienced players to choose from. As for the defensive line, four key players from last year’s squad are gone, so a less capable run defense might be inevitable, especially early in the season.
    If there’s any coach who can minimize the damages caused by lost players, it’s Phillip Fulmer. In his tenth season with UT, Fulmer has the best winning percentage among active NCAA coaches.
    The trickiest facet of Tennessee’s season is likely to be its schedule. If the Vols can make it through the season having lost only one game, the BCS is likely to put them at the top of the list of one-loss teams, thus possibly in the Fiesta Bowl. However, with everyone in the SEC gunning for them and a date with the defending national champions scheduled, a one-loss season could be just out of Rocky Top’s long reach.

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    Tennessee Vols set to make their case for Fiesta Bowl