There's an old saying that the greatest fear is the fear of the unknown, and that could possibly apply to the Tennessee Vols opening game at Neyland Stadium. Coming from the WAC, Fresno State is the most touted in popularity of conference members, but still that isn't saying too much. Head coach Phillip Fulmer has informed his squad to expect a playing style by the Bulldogs which is similar to Pac 10 teams, with a good dose of the West Coast offense worked in. In other words, hang on Vols fans, the first game on the 2003 Tennessee football schedule could be a sling fest at Rocky Top!
Quarterback Casey Clausen returns for his senior campaign, healthy and raring to go. Quite a change from last season, when he missed most of the second half of the 2003 campaign, and freshman James Banks did his best to lead what was, at best, a mediocre offense. The injury bug played havoc with the offensive squad, but the offensive line, led by senior center Scott Wells, is solid again, and whomever is the QB will enjoy a good bit of protection. Cedric Houston returns as the primary half back, with Gerald Riggs and Jabari Davis ready to roll in for their shares of the carries. Fullback Troy Fleming begins the season in fine fashion, being touted by several publications as the best fullback in college football this year.
Defensively, “Ritzmann's Return” is the theme, as Constantin Ritzmann is back from injury list and on the front four of Tennessee's defense squad. The native of Berlin has led greatly by example during his tenure at Knoxville, and you can expect the same this year. Many wonder how well the defensive backfield will perform in ‘03, and Fresno State will test it right off the bat. Rashad Baker has shown Vols fans that the number 16 can be proudly worn on the field by someone not named Manning and Jabari Greer's intense style will intimidate even the most confident of receivers.
All in all, this year's Tennessee Volunteers team looks to be a fun one to watch, and if Smokey will keep the injury bugs away, the Neyland Stadium could lead the way to sacred ground - a post season bowl on New Year's Day!
Fresno State's 2002 record - 9 wins 5 losses (6-2 in conference)