- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 1, 2001

GAINESVILLE, Fla. The stakes couldn't be higher. The Swamp will never get louder. And the talent on display will eclipse anything college football fans have seen this season.
Today's SEC East showdown between No. 5 Tennessee and No. 2 Florida at Florida Field promises the winner a conditional ticket to the Rose Bowl and fans a ticket to a glimpse at the NFL's future. The Gators (9-1) and Vols (9-1) showcase rosters absolutely lousy with future pros. Quite simply, this big orange bash features more gamebreakers than any other clash this season.
"You look at the two lineups, and the thing that jumps out at you is how many guys on both teams and both sides of the ball have the ability to take over games," said ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper early this week. "When I think Oklahoma-Nebraska, I think tradition. When I see Florida-Tennessee, I think NFL combine."
When draft experts talk about the most talent-rich programs this season, they normally list Miami, Texas, Tennessee, Florida and UCLA usually in that order. This is the first time this season that two of those five will meet.
"We haven't had this many playmakers since I've been here," said Tennessee offensive coordinator Randy Sanders when asked about the profusion of gamebreakers on his unit. "And I think if you look at Florida, you'll see the same type of players everywhere guys capable of altering a game quicker than you can say, 'Wow.'"
At no position is this talent glut more evident than at receiver, where the Vols and Gators put enough combined talent on the field to shame every NFL team short of the Vikings, Rams, Raiders or 49ers.
Let's start with Rex Grossman's targets at Florida. If Grossman, who leads the nation in passing (353.4 yards per game) wins the Heisman Trophy, Jabar Gaffney, Reche Caldwell and Taylor Jacobs should all get a chunk of the bronze boy. The trio has combined for 150 catches and 29 touchdowns this season, drawing favorable comparisons to Florida's 1996 national title threesome of Reidel Anthony, Ike Hilliard and Jacquez Green.
"I feel we have the potential to be just as good or better than those guys," said Jacobs, Florida's deep threat with 4.3 speed. "They were great receivers, and we look up to them. If [receivers coach Dwayne] Dixon ever shows us a highlight film, it's of them, showing us how they catch the ball, get in the end zone and what they do after the catch to get us pumped up."
Gaffney, who caught a controversial touchdown pass with 14 seconds remaining to lift the Gators to a 27-23 victory over the Vols in Knoxville last season, is the gem of the bunch. The 6-foot-1, 202-pounder set an NCAA freshman record with 78 catches last season and has added 60 for 1,090 yards and 12 touchdowns so far this season.
"You can't stop him underneath," said Tennessee corner Jabari Greer. "All you can do is try to jam him at the line, keep him in front of you and make him pay for his catches rattle his teeth a little."
Amazingly, Tennessee's receiving tandem of Kelley Washington and Donte Stallworth is considered even more dangerous by NFL scouts.
Washington is an athletic anomaly the likes of which the SEC has never seen. The 22-year-old freshman spent four years in the Florida Marlins' organization before returning to football as a sculpted 6-4, 225-pound wideout with 4.35 speed. Washington has spent the entire season mauling smaller, weaker corners, jamming his counterparts at the line and going over them for jump-ball tosses. Since he torched LSU for an SEC-record 256 yards on 11 catches earlier this season, every team the Vols have faced has cheated a safety to his side of the field.
Enter Stallworth. With opposing teams focused on Washington, Stallworth has been virtually unstoppable since returning from a broken wrist that kept him sidelined for the first four games. The 6-1, 190-pound junior has 29 catches for 627 yards and nine touchdowns in Tennessee's last six games.
"When you throw in two strong possession receivers who are seniors and run crisp routes in Bobby Graham and Eric Parker, and a moose of a tight end with great hands in Jason Whitten [6-5, 265], nobody can cover our guys," said Sanders. "If [quarterback Casey] Clausen gets time to throw it, there is going to be somebody open, and I mean wide open."
That same concept holds true for Grossman and the Gators, meaning the team which gets to the quarterback quickest and most often is likely to emerge victorious from the Swamp.
Tennessee has a superior defensive line anchored by last season's Outland Trophy winner John Henderson (and one of three finalists this season). But Florida is a staggering 18-point favorite, mostly because the deafening noise at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium makes calling audibles almost impossible for opposing teams. In Florida's 23-21 victory over Tennessee in Gainesville two years ago, the Swamp was so loud that Tennessee was penalized eight times for false starts.
When the Vols switched to a hand-squeeze signal among the offensive lineman in lieu of a snap count, Florida All-American Alex Brown figured out the signal and anticipated the snap en route to recording a game-deciding five sacks. Now a senior, Brown expects to wreak similar havoc on Clausen and the Vols' passing attack today.
"My job is to get after their quarterback on every play," said Brown. "If Clausen doesn't have time to throw it, those receivers won't get the chance to hurt us. It's that simple. not rocket science, it's football."

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