Volunteers for replacing Spurrier found in Knoxville

July 09, 2002 5:00 AM
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Not since Bear Bryant retired at Alabama three decades ago has a Southeastern Conference school been impacted more than Florida seeing favorite son Steve Spurrier head to the NFL.

There won’t be many tears outside Gainesville, particularly in Knoxville and Baton Rouge. Tennessee and Louisiana State are set to pounce on a supposedly wounded Gator and become the pre-eminent force in college football’s most competitive league.

The Imperial Palace Race and Sports Book has Tennessee as the No. 5 team in the nation with odds of 8-1 to win the national title in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl. The Volunteers (11-2) won the SEC East last year with a 7-1 record, one game ahead of the Gators.

Florida (10-2) is ranked No. 7 at 15-1. Defending SEC champ LSU (10-3) and Georgia (8-4) are tied for 14th nationally at 40-1. South Carolina, Arkansas, Ole Miss and Auburn are the other league schools making the Imperial Palace list.

Outside of Vanderbilt, there doesn’t figure to be a weak team in the league. Florida’s major concern is gaining a comfort level with new coach Ron Zook, following years of being spoiled with Spurrier’s excellence.

Tennessee was hit hard in terms of losing undergrads to the NFL, but the Vols have QB Casey Claussen back and the depth chart simply moves up one notch. Injuries, though, will be a major concern for head coach Phil Fulmer.

The LSU Tigers were reborn last year under Nick Saban, winning the SEC for the first time since 1988. However, the Bayou Bengals are rated equal with Georgia and behind both Florida and Tennessee in the preseason IP ratings.

The two most intriguing teams in the league could be Mississippi and Kentucky. The Rebels have a Heisman Trophy candidate in QB Eli Manning, brother of Peyton and son of Archie. Manning arrived as a prime-time performer after throwing six touchdown passes in a seven-overtime victory over Arkansas.

The Wildcats also are potent at quarterback with 6-foot-7 junior Jared Lorenzen. When Guy Morriss inserted Lorenzen in Game 7 last year, the offense took off. Kentucky may be one of the best "money" wagers in college football.

Key games, well, there will be many. Tennessee-Florida has been the marquee matchup in recent years. No reason to think it won’t be again. By the way, it’s Sept. 21 in Knoxville.

The season begins with two interesting non-conference tilts Aug. 31: Auburn at USC and LSU visiting Virginia Tech.

South Carolina, the alma mater, deserves some props. No stars, just a solid, emotional team. The Gamecocks will be in the mix.

IMPERIAL PALACE RATINGS

TEAM  

ODDS  

 RANK

Tennessee  

 8-1  

 5th

Florida  

 15-1  

 7th

LSU  

 40-1  

 14th

Georgia  

 40-1  

 14th

South Carolina  

 60-1  

 20th

Arkansas  

 75-1  

 27th

Auburn  

 100-1  

 33rd

Mississippi  

 100-1  

 33rd

Field (all others)*  

 25-1  

 --

*--Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Alabama, Mississippi St.