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Bowl loss doesn't dampen Vols' spirits

Sports Writer

MIAMI -- Despite being trounced 42-17 by the co-national champion Nebraska Cornhuskers in the Orange Bowl, the mood of the Tennessee Volunteers remains upbeat.

Sure, they couldn't stop Nebraska's potent running attack in the second half. Sure, they turned the ball over three times. Sure, their longest passing play was 29 yards, and that was thrown by backup quarterback Tee Martin.

The mood around camp could be pretty somber. But according to some Vols, this program is still on top and in no danger of falling off.

"This one loss is a real downer for us, but we did have a very good season, and I don't want our team or our program to lose sight of that," head coach Phillip Fulmer said.

"We probably were not as good tonight (Jan. 2) as Nebraska, but we're probably not as far away from them as it looked," offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe said. "We'll be OK. Nobody's panicking."

And why should they panic? The offense does lose its top receiver (Marcus Nash), quarterback (Peyton Manning) and most experienced lineman (Trey Teague), but returns everybody else.

Freshman tackle Cosey Coleman, who performed admirably in his six starts, returns with high expectations. Lineman Jarvis Reado will probably be completely healthy for the first time in a while. Tailback Jamal Lewis led the nation's freshmen runners in yards on the ground. Martin completed 100 percent of his passes in the Orange Bowl.

Defensively the Vols lose a passel of key components, but return young talent in players such as Dwayne Goodrich and Raynoch Thompson, and will still have the services of linebacker Al Wilson after he shunned the money of the NFL.

Don't be deceived, though, for there is plenty of work to be done before another Alliance Bowl bid rolls around.

"I think that everybody realizes all the little things we've got to shore up," Cutcliffe said. "We've got to continue to recruit hard and continue to get better in every way and focus on our off-season."

Cutcliffe's big gun for next year -- Lewis -- feels the same as his coach. The loss to Nebraska only whets his and his team's appetite to do better than 11-2 next year.

"I think in the off-season we'll work even harder because this will give us momentum to want to do better next year," he said. "I just want to go out there and play for a national championship next year."

Perhaps luck will be on Tennessee's side in the next couple of years. Over the last three years, the Vols have dropped five games. Of those five, two were to the eventual national champions (Florida '96, Nebraska '97) and another was to the runner-up (Florida '95).

It's said that bad things come in threes, so maybe the Vols won't play a national champion next year.

But just because UT didn't bring home an Orange Bowl trophy or a national title, an 11-win season with an SEC Championship is a success.

"There's been a lot of adversity to overcome -- injuries and the adversity of the Florida game, which was such a big game early," Cutcliffe said. "I thought our senior class and our head football coach held it together extremely well. It was a great football team to be around."

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Copyright © 1998, The Daily Beacon. All rights reserved.