1. #1
    Chance Harper
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    Vols visit Neuheisel, UCLA to end Week 1

    Vols visit Neuheisel, UCLA to end Week 1

    If UCLA has another quarterback go down, Rick Neuheisel's return to his alma mater might be as the Bruins quarterback instead of their head coach. Neuheisel's outfit is set to host a solid Tennessee squad with their third-string QB Kevin Craft, a big reason why the Bruins are touchdown underdogs. The Vols, behind a strong running attack led by Arian Foster, look to continue SEC dominance.


    The Rick Neuheisel Era at UCLA is about to begin. Too bad he can’t suit up and take the field himself.

    The Bruins will start the 2008 college football season with third-string quarterback Kevin Craft running the show against the No. 18 Tennessee Volunteers. Patrick Cowan (knee) and Ben Olson (foot) have already succumbed to the injury bug after missing extended periods of time last year.

    Craft made five starts at San Diego State in 2006, and as a JUCO transfer will be more prepared than freshman McLeod Bethel-Thompson (one TD, five INTs) was when pressed into action. He’s a five-star prospect, but does Craft have enough seasoning to make UCLA a viable threat Monday night against the mighty Vols?

    Not a lot of people think so. At least, that’s according to the betting polls, which suggest that 88 percent of the public is on Tennessee. The Vols opened early as 6-point favorites, then moved to seven at most books the day before the game. Others had the Volunteers at -7½. Handicappers who shop around for their betting odds can get that half-point on one of football’s “magic numbers” – roughly eight percent of games end with a winning margin of seven points.

    This line movement might be more reflective of the public’s belief that the SEC is the mother of all conferences, compared to its knowledge of UCLA’s troubles at quarterback. But the situation for the Bruins is indeed troubling. Although Cowan and Olson missed a lot of action last year, they usually weren’t on the sidelines at the same time. Now Cowan is out for the season and Olson won’t be back until October at the earliest.

    Neuheisel probably had other ideas about how his return to college football would be. After he was fired in 2003 from a successful Washington Huskies program for participating in a March Madness bracket pool, Neuheisel was the QB coach and then the offensive co-ordinator of the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens. Then he got the call from his alma mater, and the team he quarterbacked to victory in the 1984 Rose Bowl. Neuheisel scored big by hiring former USC offensive co-ordinator Norm Chow (also recently working in the NFL) to take the same role across town. Things were looking up.

    Things will eventually get better for the Bruins. Monday night, on the other hand, is not shaping up well for home side. Tennessee has an outstanding pass defense, and while the front seven could use an upgrade, the UCLA running game is dubious, beginning with an offensive line that returns only two starters from last year.

    If the Bruins are going to pull this one out, the defense is going to have to carry the load. The Volunteers also have a new offense to work the bugs out of, starting with junior QB Jonathan Crompton taking over for Erik Ainge. Crompton has five TD passes and four picks in limited action over the past two seasons. He’s got a strong arm, throws accurate passes, and looked comfortable during the spring session under new offensive co-ordinator Dave Clawson.

    The switch to Clawson from David Cutcliffe, who took the head-coaching job at Duke, will define how the season goes for the Vols. Clawson’s system under Philip Fulmer calls for more short-range passing; Tennessee will spread receivers Austin Rogers, Josh Briscoe and Gerald Jones and protect Crompton with a strong offensive line.

    We’ll also see some old-fashioned Volunteer power running with senior RB Arian Foster (1,193 yards rushing last year, 4.9 yards per carry). The less effective Crompton is throwing the ball in his first game at the helm, the more the Vols will have to run, which plays into UCLA’s hands as a strong pass defender. The positive reports from Tennessee’s spring camp do not portend well for Neuheisel and the Bruins.

    The total for Monday’s matchup is down from 49 to 46 points. Game time is 8:00 p.m. Eastern on ESPN.

  2. #2
    raydog
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    rocky top gonna have a field day with this 3rd string qb tonight.

  3. #3
    Tigers1230
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    Totally agree. I hate TENN with a passion but their defense should win this game alone.

  4. #4
    daggerkobe
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    Don't underestimate UCLA.

    9th ranked Arizona State came in last season and barely survived UCLA with another 3rd stringer.

  5. #5
    Tigers1230
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    I don't know, I just can't take Pac 10 losses in confrence to each other seriously. I am a big SEC fan and just don't see them doing it, but I may be wrong.

  6. #6
    daggerkobe
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    Wasn't TN blown out by Cal last season?

    PAC-10 isn't as bad as you think.

  7. #7
    Stretch
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    I'm going with Tenn here! I'm not expecting a collapse like last year against Cal and Tenn will be prepared to put this game behind them.

  8. #8
    Seattle Slew
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    Tennessee is not your typical SEC team. They often collapse and play like idiots in these games. Talent-wise, they should win handily but that means nothing on the road first game of the season.

    I like UCLA +7.5 and maybe an outright upset.

  9. #9
    xyzky
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    I'm on Tenn -7 for 2 units and -4 for 1 unit (first-half)...I feel like I need to add a bunch more...

  10. #10
    nysmoneyman
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    UCLA's Strengths:

    What UCLA did best last year was stopping the run. Brian Price returns at tackle and should be joined by Brigham Harwell, who was a starter in 2006 before missing most of last season with an injury. Those two will be the start of what should be another decent front seven. Tom Blake is now a senior and needs to start looking more like the departed Bruce Davis on the end. Christian Taylor will be missed, but linebackers Kyle Bosworth and Reggie Carter return. Carter will be moving to the middle linebacker spot and that leaves an opening on the outside for senior John Hale. With all experience up front, the run defense should be alright. But more important than stopping the run will be getting pressure on the quarterback to help out a very inexperienced secondary.

    UCLA's Weaknesses:

    Corners Trey Brown and Rodney Van and safeties Chris Horton and Dennis Keyes are gone. That leaves a whole lot of inexperienced players left on the roster. Alterraun Verner has starting experience at corner and everybody is raving about redshirt freshman Courtney Viney. However, this is the Pac-10. If the Bruins have trouble getting pressure on the quarterback, the secondary might be in lots and lots of trouble. The skill positions on the other side of the ball have some questions that need answered too. Wide receivers Brandon Breazell and Joe Cowan are gone and now it is up to Dominique Johnson to develop into the main threat. At 6-3, the sophomore certainly has the potential to be a great player, but having some more experienced options would help him develop. At running back UCLA will be fine if Kahlil Bell can stay healthy. Otherwise a bunch of freshmen will have to play a big part in the offense.

    UCLA Bruins
    2007 SEASON IN REVIEW:
    Last season the Bruins opened the campaign ranked 14th in the nation, and after victories over Stanford (45-17) and BYU (27-17) UCLA moved up to 11th in the country, but after that the Bruins' season took a turn for the worse. The Bruins went on the road in their following matchup and were hammered by the Utah Utes, 44-6. UCLA was able to recover with three wins in its next four contests, with the lone loss coming against Notre Dame, 20-6. Unfortunately the Bruins hit a wall, dropping three consecutive games to Washington State (27-7), Arizona (34-27) and Arizona State (24-20). At 5-5 UCLA was able to collect a hard fought 16-0 victory over Oregon, but the team was unable to ride the momentum, and went into the Coliseum in its regular- season finale and fell to USC, 24-7.

    With the loss to USC came the dismissal of head coach Karl Dorrell, who lasted just five years at UCLA, compiling a 35-27 ledger. Without their head coach the Bruins went on to play in the Las Vegas Bowl and were led by defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker. However, Walker could not lead UCLA to victory as the squad was defeated by BYU, 17-16. It was the second straight bowl loss for UCLA and the first losing campaign since 2003.

    2008 ANALYSIS
    OFFENSE:
    The Bruins were extremely inconsistent on the offensive side of the football last season, and with only four starters back for the 2008 campaign, it is likely the team could continue to struggle. The main issue is at quarterback, as the team thought Ben Olson and Pat Cowan would battle for the starting spot, but before the season could even start both players went down with injuries, and now junior Kevin Craft could be the signal-caller for the opener.

    "You know it was a strange day that 14th practice." head coach Rick Neuheisel stated, "We had no pads on, we were out there just going through some drills. Ben [Olson] took off and went to hand the ball off and I thought he had his foot stepped on, he was hopping around and I was kind of giggling at him. The very next play, Pat [Cowan] went down in a heap. Ben went back and couldn't take two steps away from center, so I had two senior quarterbacks both in heaps on the ground being administered to by our training staff."

    Olson suffered the same injury (broken foot) back in April and will now be lost for about two months.

    "It's a crushing blow to the young man," said Neuheisel. "He put so much time and effort into the program. Hopefully, his healing and rehab will go well and we'll get him back in the fold in early October."

    Whoever is under center will have to rely heavily on Dominique Johnson, who hauled in 25 passes and four scores in his first season. Johnson is a speedy receiver and along with Marcus Everett, the two should prove to be valuable throughout the season.

    Last year UCLA's rushing attack was decimated by injures and production could be tough to come by in 2008 with no true starter in the backfield and a revamped offensive line. True freshman Aundre Dean could be the primary ball carrier, while Khalil Bell recovers from an ACL injury, but with only Micah Reed returning to the offensive line, Dean could struggle to gain significant yards.

    DEFENSE:
    The Bruins relied heavily on the performance of the defense last year, but with only five starters back for the '08 season, it is unlikely that the unit will be as productive. The front line should be the heart and soul of this unit and will definitely get a boost with the return of Brigham Harwell, who missed last year due to injury.

    "Being out last year was really tough for me." Harwell stated, "Being at home watching the games on TV, I had some tough Saturdays. I'm looking forward to having a great season. I'm done with school, I can focus on football and just come out strong every Saturday and help the team to win games."

    Harwell will have a chance to team up with senior defensive end Tom Blake, and hopefully for coach Neuheisel the two will cause plenty of problems for the opposing teams.

    Kyle Bosworth (74 tackles in 2007) and Reggie Carter (62 tackles, 10 TFLs) both return to their linebacking positions and will look to improve on their numbers from 2007. secondary is the biggest concern for UCLA, as the team is returning only cornerback Alterraun Verner, who had a strong sophomore campaign in 2007, posting 75 tackles and four INTs. Brett Lockett and Aaron Ware will take over the safety positions, but for the cover guys to be successful, the front seven will have to apply plenty of pressure.

    SPECIAL TEAMS:
    The Bruins have a clear advantage at kicker, as Kai Forbath is possibly the best in the Pac-10. Forbath had to take over for Justin Medlock and did a tremendous job in his first year, connecting on 25-of-30 field goal attempts, including 5-of-5 from 50 yards and beyond. The return game took a bit of a hit with the loss of Matthew Slater, who found the end zone on three different occasions last year, but hopefully Michael Norris can step in without much of a loss in terms of production.

    OUTLOOK:
    Whenever you bring in a new coach there is always an adjustment period, and that should be the case for UCLA. However, coach Neuheisel is not the only new face, as the team will be riddled with inexperience throughout the offensive unit. With injury problems at quarterback, and a lack of depth on the offensive line, the Bruins will need the defense to put forth tremendous efforts each and every week. Fortunately the Bruins catch a break with their schedule, as the team will have seven home games, including four in its first five contests. Bottom line, however, is there are too many question marks on the offensive side to consider UCLA a threat in the Pac-10 this year.

    By John Agovino, Associate College Football Editor

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    Tennessee's Strengths:

    With four starters returning to an offensive line that only gave up four sacks, the offense should not have any problems adjusting to the new scheme. That is four sacks on the entire season… Stanford, Arizona State, Syracuse and Notre Dame gave up more than that per game. Guard Anthony Parker is the best of the bunch and should be looking at All-SEC honors when all is said and done. With such a quality line in front of him, running back Arian Foster is on the verge of exploding into superstardom. After tallying 1,193 yards on the ground and 14 total touchdowns as a junior, Foster will be the main part of the offense. With a whole lot of new faces on the staff, having a back like Foster will make the offense much more consistent than it would be otherwise.

    Tennessee's Weaknesses:

    As good as the team was at preventing sacks, they had a major problem getting some of their own. And with the departure of both starting ends, the problem could get worse before it gets better. Robert Ayers and Wes Brown have some experience and potential, but they probably will not make the line noticeably better right away. Losing Jerod Mayo and Ryan Karl will not make things any easier for the defense. Mayo, who was the tenth overall pick in the NFL Draft, led the conference in tackles and was the heart and soul of the defense. Rico McCoy will have to be the new leader of the linebackers and Coach Phillip Fulmer will have to find a couple new starters. There is some unproven talent that could step up, but Ellix Wilson is really the only experienced option to step into one of the starting linebacker spots.


    Tennessee Volunteers
    2007 SEASON IN REVIEW:
    Last season did not start the way that coach Phillip Fulmer and the Tennessee Volunteers anticipated. A 14-point loss to California and a 39-point setback to Florida had fans of the program calling for the coach to step down. Fortunately, wins in the next three weeks quieted the mob a bit, especially considering that one of the victories during that stretch came by 21 points over Georgia. A 24-point loss to Alabama broke the momentum, but once again the Vols rallied to put together a winning streak, this time a five-game run highlighted by a four-overtime triumph over Kentucky. A December 1st loss to LSU by seven points ended the regular season on a bit of a down note, but Tennessee still earned a bid to the Outback Bowl where it would do battle with Wisconsin. That game proved to be one of the most competitive contests of the bowl season, and Tennessee showed a great deal of toughness to emerge with a 21-17 victory. The fact that 15 starters from the offensive and defensive units of that 2007 team are back in 2008 has to be viewed as an obvious positive.

    2008 ANALYSIS
    OFFENSE:
    The Jonathan Crompton era begins in Knoxville, as the junior quarterback takes over the reins of the offense from Erik Ainge. Crompton has the size and arm strength to be extremely successful. He also has some big- time talent at the wide receiver position as is usually the case for Tennessee. Lucas Taylor is a star, as he made 73 catches for 1,000 yards and five touchdowns last season. Austin Rogers is another outstanding talent who appears poised to have a breakout junior campaign.

    The passing game simply has to be solid, considering that the offensive line welcomes back all five starters to complement tailback Arian Foster. Last season, Foster racked up 1,193 yards and 12 touchdowns on 245 carries, and he has a chance to finish as the top rusher in the history of the program.

    "I think Arian has stayed under the radar, has been under appreciated a bit," says coach Fulmer. "My hope is he stays healthy and takes his game to the next level and becomes the all time leading rusher in Tennessee history. When you think of all the backs that have been through there, that's quite impressive."

    The Vols averaged 32.5 ppg and 401.5 total ypg last season, and while those numbers are certainly solid, there is potential to be even better in 2008.

    DEFENSE:
    Seven starters are back in place from a defensive unit that struggled a bit in 2007. The Vols finished 61st nationally in scoring defense and 70th in total defense. Sure, the club did face one of the nation's toughest schedules, but coach Fulmer is certainly not happy with the results. Up front, Demonte' Bolden is a stud at the tackle position. The NFL scouts are well aware of the 6-6 standout, and he is poised for a big senior campaign. Robert Ayers is a solid pass rusher who will likely improve on his rather low total of four sacks from 2007.

    According to Ayers, "We have very good, level players. Our chemistry is strong. We just need to keep building and hopefully that will lead to a championship."

    The linebacking corps is small but extremely athletic, and Rico McCoy is the best of the bunch. At just 215 pounds, McCoy made 106 tackles a year ago and always finds his way to the football. In the defensive backfield, Eric Berry was outstanding as a freshman. He registered five interceptions and made 86 tackles from his safety position. Demetrice Morley will man the other safety spot.

    SPECIAL TEAMS:
    Daniel Lincoln took over the placekicking duties as a freshman last season and showed a great deal of poise and ability. He is considered to be a strength on the team and will be counted on to hit his field goals with consistency. Britton Colquitt is suspended for the first five games of the season, so the punting duties will be handled by Chad Cunningham. Keep an eye on return man Dennis Rogan, as he is a big-time playmaker.

    OUTLOOK:
    The SEC is tremendously competitive, and while Tennessee does not have to face LSU, there are plenty of challenges on the docket. The Vols will be in the hunt for the SEC title with an improved defense and a power running game. If Crompton plays up to his ability, Fulmer's squad will have a chance to capture the crown.

    By Pat Taggart, Associate College Football Editor

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