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Best Vol Team Tournament, First Round: 2001 vs 2004

The two best teams of the new millennium square off in today's first round matchup.

Ronald Martinez

It's a blast from the recent past in today's first round matchup. A pair of East Division Champions with a ton of raw talent collide.

2001: 11-2, East Division Champions, Final AP Rank #4

The '01 Vols were two of the most heartbreaking losses in program history away from an undefeated regular season, and even the Hobnailed Boot didn't prevent them from controlling their own destiny in December. Playing one of the most ambitious schedules the Vols have ever faced, the Vols beat both Syracuse and Notre Dame in the non-conference, plus conquered LSU in the divisional rotation. Kelley Washington became a superstar in that meeting, setting the school record for receiving yards in a single game. This team was paced by the most dangerous WR/TE combo in school history with Washington, Donte Stallworth, and Jason Witten, and sophomore Casey Clausen was extremely efficient in getting them the ball. This was also one of the most balanced offenses in school history, as Travis Stephens set the single season rushing record and powered the Vols with 200+ yards against Arkansas and Florida. It was the win against the #2 Gators in Gainesville in December as an 18 point underdog that solidified this team's place in school history, the 34-32 win going down as one of the best individual games in UT lore. The Vols moved to #2 in the BCS with the win, claimed the East title, and then gave it away in Atlanta against LSU. A 45-17 beatdown of Michigan was a nice consolation prize. The offense gets a lot of credit, but this also may be the best defensive line in school history and one of the best defensive tackle pairings in SEC history.

QB: Casey Clausen

RB: Travis Stephens, Will Bartholomew

WR: Donte Stallworth, Kelley Washington, Jason Witten

OL: Reggie Coleman, Fred Weary, Scott Wells, Jason Respert, Will Ofenheusle

DL: Will Overstreet, John Henderson, Albert Haynesworth, Bernard Jackson

LB: Eddie Moore, Dominique Stevenson, Keyon Whiteside

DB: Andre Lott, Jabari Greer, Rashad Baker, Julian Battle

2004: 11-3, East Division Champions, Final AP Rank #13

At full strength this team lost only to the undefeated Auburn juggernaut. It is also the last Vol squad to beat the Gators, winning 30-28 in Knoxville on James Wilhoit's 50 yard bomb. Freshmen Erik Ainge and Brent Schaeffer paced the Vols early, leading the Vols to the win over Florida together. Ainge then paced a 19-14 upset over #3 Georgia in Athens a few weeks later. This team beat Florida, Georgia, and Alabama, becoming just the second Vol team (1998) to do that since expansion in 1992. A shoulder injury to Ainge cost the Vols against Notre Dame, but Rick Clausen led a strong effort in a 38-28 loss to Auburn in the SEC Championship, then the Vols buried Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl. This defense is also full of guys who perhaps unexpectedly went on to have solid NFL careers in Omar Gaither, Parys Haralson, and Jason Allen.

QB: Erik Ainge, Brent Schaeffer, Rick Clausen

RB: Cedric Houston, Gerald Riggs

WR: Tony Brown, Chris Hannon, Jayson Swain

OL: Michael Munoz, Rob Smith, Jason Respert, Cody Douglas, Arron Sears

DL: Parys Haralson, Jesse Mahelona, Justin Harrell, Karlton Neal

LB: Omar Gaither, Jason Mitchell, Kevin Burnett

DB: Jonathan Hefney, Roshaun Fellows, Jason Allen, Corey Campbell