August 27, 2007
KNOXVILLE (AP) -- Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer says his 15th-ranked Volunteers are further along than he expected going into the season opener.
The Vols open Saturday at 12th-ranked California.
Fulmer says junior tailback Arian Foster is especially eager to return to play. Foster finished last season with a fumble in the Outback Bowl which Penn State returned for an 88-yard touchdown.
The Nittany Lions went on to win 20-10.
Fulmer says Foster used the pain of that play as a motivational tool to get tougher during the off season.
He's since played his way into the starting tailback spot for the Vols, followed by Montario Hardesty.
The two combined for 22 carries and 125 yards in last year's season-opening 35-18 win over Cal.
VOLS DON’T DWELL ON RARE LOSING SEASONS
Tennessee’s bounce-back football campaign of 2006, when the Vols finished 9-4 and advanced to the Outback Bowl after missing the postseason the year before with a 5-6 finish, was more than just a return to normalcy for in Big Orange Country.
It also extended the nation’s longest active streak without consecutive losing seasons to 95.
Not since a three-year stretch from 1909-11 -- when Tennessee compiled records of 1-6-2, 3-5-1 and 3-4-2 -- have the Vols turned in back-to-back seasons of sub-.500 football. In fact the Vols since 1911 have had only 10 losing seasons, period: 1924, 1935, 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1977, 1980, 1988 and 2005.
According to research by Dave Plati, Colorado’s associate athletics director/sports information, Tennessee is the runaway leader in this category, followed by Ohio State (82), Southern Mississippi (72) and Arizona State (59). Alabama is next at 49, although the Crimson Tide must rally from a 6-7 record last season to keep that streak intact. Others of note from the SEC are Georgia at 43 and Florida with 27.
The closest Tennessee came to breaking its run of success was 1963, when one-year head coach Jim McDonald’s only team won four of its last five, including shutouts of both Kentucky and Vanderbilt, to finish 5-5. The 1962 squad had gone 4-6 in Bowden Wyatt’s final campaign, while Doug Dickey’s first team in Knoxville finished 4-5-1 in 1964.
Johnny Majors also rallied his 1978 Vols to wins in their final three contests for a 5-5-1 slate, one season after his 1977 return to East Tennessee resulted in a 4-7 finish.
YEARS SINCE CONSECUTIVE LOSING SEASONS
School Years Last
TENNESSEE 95 1909-11
Ohio State 82 1922-24
Southern Miss. 72 1933-34
Arizona State 59 1946-47
*Alabama 49 1954-57
*Losing season in 2006.
TICKETS AVAILABLE FOR FOUR UT HOME GAMES, TWO ROAD DATES
Tickets to four Tennessee home football games and a pair of road dates are available through the UTsports.com Web site, by phone or in person at Thompson-Boling Arena.
Game tickets can be purchased to see the Vols play Southern Mississippi (Sept. 8, $50), Arkansas State (Sept. 22, $40), Louisiana-Lafayette (Nov. 3, $40) and Vanderbilt (Nov. 17, $40) at Neyland Stadium. Tickets in the Vols’ cheering section for road games against Mississippi State (Oct. 13, $40) and Kentucky (Nov. 24, $30) also are available.
Ticket office hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. each business day.
INTERVIEW OF COACH PHILLIP FULMER BEFORE SATURDAY’S GAME AT CALIFORNIA
1. Give an assessment of where the Vols stand leading into Saturday's game at California.
A - "Our team is ready to play and excited to be going up against somebody other than ourselves. Our summer conditioning program went well, and we have worked diligently this fall to prepare for a great California team."
2. How will Erik Ainge's background as the returning quarterback prepare him for an opening game with a ranked team?
A - "If you could have experience at only one position, it would be quarterback. Erik has a wealth of experience. He is the leader of our offensive football team. He has great presence. He understands our system, and he understands the situations he will face. I am eager to see how Erik plays."
3. What are some specific questions for which you will hope to find answers concerning the 2007 Vols in Saturday's game?
A - "Real important to us is our run defense. Are we better than we were last year? We were never the same after some serious injury situations. Can our receivers be what we think they can be? They've done extremely well in camp. Will our return game be improved? What about our own running game? We'll be looking for a lot of answers to a lot of questions Saturday at California."
4. Tell about the California offense that the Vols will face Saturday in Berkeley and the challenge it presents.
A - "They are special. We'll need to make their quarterback move and not stand back there and get comfortable. They have a corps of outstanding receivers and a great running back. Their offense is spectacular."
5. After the Vols' impressive victory over California last year, do you see any danger the team won't be mentally prepared for a tough test?
A - "I have always taken the position that every game stands on its own. This is a different Tennessee team and a different Cal team in some ways. Last year's game will give Cal some motivation, but it should motivate us, also."