The California Golden Bears took their #9 preseason rankings to Knoxville yesterday, hoping to roll over the pitiful Volunteers of last year. Instead, they got taken to the woodshed.
Relief replaced misery on Rocky Top. Nine months ago, Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer was grim as he answered questions about a 5-6 finish, his first losing season and a bowl-less holiday for his Volunteers. He may have been one of the most relieved â€” but least surprised â€” among the 106,009 people in Neyland Stadium who watched the 23rd-ranked Vols’ 35-18 win over No. 9 California on Saturday. “We expected to win this ball game and be Tennessee,” Fulmer said.
For at least a week, Fulmer will be spared from speculation about how many games he needs to win to keep his job. Fulmer described last year as an aberration, and the Vols might have proved him right.
Tennessee had been 0-6 against top 10 teams in Neyland Stadium since 2000, and many fans stayed to the end. After all, their last glimpse of the 2005 Vols was in an embarrassing loss to Vanderbilt.
For the Golden Bears, it was a shocking blow at the beginning of a greatly anticipated season. Cal’s ranking was its highest since 1952. Many believe this could be the Bears’ year to challenge Southern California for the Pac-10 title, and they still could with this loss outside conference play. But any run at a national championship was likely dashed.
Tennessee has long been a top program in what has traditionally been the most powerful conference in college football. They weren’t going to stay down for long.
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