Originally created 12/04/01

Tennessee QB wants to go home for holidays



KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Casey Clausen has to win just one more game before he can go home for the holidays.

The Tennessee quarterback, a native of Northridge, Calif., has talked about how much he'd like to return to nearby Pasadena to play in the Rose Bowl for the national championship.

His wish will come true if the No. 2 Volunteers (10-1, 7-1 Southeastern Conference) beat LSU in the SEC championship game on Saturday.

Clausen's California friends have called to wish him good luck, but he hasn't made New Year's plans with them yet.

The Tigers (8-3, 5-3) are foremost in the Vols' minds because they don't want to miss the chance to play for the national championship.

"This is a huge game for us this week. We have to be ready to go. LSU is a good team," Clausen said Monday. "It's in our hands now. It's up to us. We've worked way too hard and spent way too much time trying to get to this point."

Tennessee moved up to second in this week's Bowl Championship Series standings, followed by Nebraska, Colorado and Oregon. A win over LSU guarantees a date with No. 1 Miami on Jan. 3.

Tennessee surprised then-No. 2 Florida 34-32 on Saturday, the Vols' first win in Gainesville, Fla., since 1971, while Colorado beat Texas 39-37 in the Big 12 Championship game.

Tennessee fans couldn't decide Monday whether to be most excited about the win over Florida, the berth in the SEC title game or a chance to see their team play for a second national title in four years.

The Vols won the SEC title in 1998 en route to an undefeated season and the national championship over Florida State.

Players and coaches didn't have to make that decision.

"It's over with as far as us players are concerned," Clausen said about the Florida game. "It was a great win for us, but we have one more to go."

In their Sept. 20 game in Knoxville, the Vols overcame a late LSU rally to beat the Tigers, 26-18.

At the time, Tennessee was missing wide receiver Donte Stallworth, who was out with a broken wrist, while fellow receiver Eric Parker was slowed by a separated shoulder. Clausen believes the Vols are a much better team now.

"We were just waiting to get everybody back. Once we did that, we've been playing the last four, five, six games the way we could have been playing the whole year if we'd had everybody healthy," Clausen said.

Clausen, a sophomore, also has improved. He has completed 79 of 119 passes for 1,029 yards, 12 touchdowns and three interceptions in the last four games.

Despite winning six in a row after a loss to Georgia, Tennessee was an 18-point underdog at Florida. Now oddsmakers pick the Vols to win the SEC. Tennessee opened as a 7-point favorite over LSU.

The players say they should have no problem being as motivated against LSU as they were last weekend at Florida.

"This is for a ring, and that's what we came in here to get," defensive end Will Overstreet said.

Other teams have had the Rose Bowl in their sights as well, and the Vols hope they won't follow the losing trend.

"A berth to the Rose Bowl is out there saying, 'Someone come and take it,"' Clausen said. "It's in our hands to go out there and do it."

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