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TALENTED TENNESSEE IS THE FAVORITE FOR THE NATIONAL CROWN, BUT DON'T COUNT OUT NEBRASKA, WHICH HUNGERS FOR A THREE-PEAT, OR FLORIDA, WHICH MAY FINALLY HAVE LEARNED TO PLAY DEFENSE 1 TENNESSEE

Aug. 26, 1996
Aug. 26, 1996

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Aug. 26, 1996

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College Football '96

TALENTED TENNESSEE IS THE FAVORITE FOR THE NATIONAL CROWN, BUT DON'T COUNT OUT NEBRASKA, WHICH HUNGERS FOR A THREE-PEAT, OR FLORIDA, WHICH MAY FINALLY HAVE LEARNED TO PLAY DEFENSE 1 TENNESSEE

The Volunteers might as well send out engraved notes: You are
cordially invited to our national championship.... Even Neyland
Stadium has been expanded--from 91,902 seats to 102,485--as if
to host a gigantic party. Tennessee has the best quarterback in
college football in junior Peyton Manning (page 108), one of the
best tailbacks in school history (senior Jay Graham) and a pass
rusher who is being favorably compared with former Vol Reggie
White (junior Leonard Little). The schedule brings both Florida
and Alabama to Knoxville, each after Tennessee has had a week
off, and the Vols get eight days to prepare for their toughest
road game, at Georgia on Oct. 12. In all, nine of the team's 11
regular-season games will be played within the borders of the
state of Tennessee (the Vols face Mississippi in Memphis).

This is an article from the Aug. 26, 1996 issue Original Layout

"I think people in Tennessee have always talked more about
winning the Southeastern Conference, but never used the n word,"
says Manning. Actually, it's two words, Peyton, and, as Manning
himself says, "This year we should use the words: national
championship."

Whether the Vols win that national title depends in large part
on how well they recover from last September's 62-37 loss to
Florida in Gainesville, a game they led 30-14 late in the second
quarter. "Still don't know what happened," says junior wideout
Marcus Nash. Tennessee won its last eight games and finished No.
3 in the nation, but by the numbers--that 25-point loss to No. 2
Florida, which subsequently lost to Nebraska by 38 in the Fiesta
Bowl--the Vols were far from the top. "I prefer to think that we
were 30 minutes away from playing for the national title," says
Manning.

The core of the '95 team returns, beginning with Manning, who
threw for a school-record 2,954 yards last fall. Also back are
Manning's two leading receivers: senior Joey Kent, who had a
school-record 69 catches for 1,055 yards, and Nash, a former
high school All-America, who had 43 catches for 512 yards.

Graham, whose sister, Kim, won a gold medal in the 4x400-meter
relay at the Atlanta Olympics, was a track star himself at
Concord (N.C.) High. He rushed for a school-record 1,438 yards
last fall, but two runs he never completed are the ones he
remembers most vividly. His two fumbles in the third quarter of
the Florida debacle led to 14 Gator points and accelerated
Tennessee's collapse. "I think about the fumbles every day," he
says.

This year Graham will run behind a line that has four new
starters--Robert Poole, a 6'3", 291-pound tackle is the only
returnee. But not to worry: The Vols always come up with a good
offensive line, the way Brigham Young always finds a good
quarterback. The newcomer being counted on most heavily is 6'5",
275-pound junior left tackle Trey Teague, who not only shares an
apartment with Manning but now also must try to protect his
blind side.

Fortunately for Teague and his colleagues, they'll have to line
up opposite the tenacious Little only during the week. Little,
whom Tennessee lists at 6'2", 230 pounds ("I weigh a lot more
than that, really," he says), had 11 sacks last year. He came to
Knoxville from Asheville, N.C., in the fall of 1993 but was sent
home because he had not met the NCAA's minimum academic
standards. He eventually spent a year at Coffeyville (Kans.)
Community College before returning to Tennessee last year. "The
day they sent me home from here was the worst day of my life,"
he says. "I had two years with nothing to do but think about my
future."

Tennessee players have had 12 months to think about their
future. For them, a party lies ahead. RSVP, Sugar Bowl, New
Orleans, La.

--Tim Layden

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER Graham (25) doesn't expect a repeat of the Vols' downfall last year at Florida. [University of Florida player tackling Jay Graham]