published Saturday, September 5th, 2009

Put up or hush time for Kiffin


by Wes Rucker

KNOXVILLE -- Lane Kiffin became major college football's youngest head coach the second he signed with Tennessee in December.

Not long after that, Kiffin became one of the game's most polarizing figures by joking that his Volunteers would "sing 'Rocky Top' all night long" after defeating the defending national champion Florida Gators on their vaunted home field in September.

The 34-year-old Kiffin assembled college football's most expensive set of assistants, plucking several high-profile coaches from several Southeastern Conference staffs, and he bragged about it. He and those coaches surged late in the recruiting process to snag one of the 10 highest-rated signing classes -- completed one month later when they added the nation's most coveted tailback prospect, Bryce Brown of Kansas -- and they bragged about it.

Kiffin kept talking through the summer, slowing only to focus on the start of preseason camp.

Billboards along interstates throughout the South feature Kiffin's face, with bold text indicating, "It's Time."

Well, today, it is time.

Time to put up or hush up.

UT's Volunteers open one of their most highly anticipated seasons in years today at 12:21 p.m. against Western Kentucky. Larger games against UCLA and the Southeastern Conference gauntlet will follow, but Kiffin and Co. will debut today.

"I think they have a lot of confidence," Kiffin said Thursday night about his players. "I think they have a pretty good swagger about themselves.

"I think they feel they're extremely prepared, and that they know what they're doing. I've started to see them turning their mindset to being extremely confident."

All-America safety Eric Berry said Kiffin and his staff "won't play anyone who isn't as confident as they are.

"If you're going to wear orange and put that 'T' on your helmet and strap it up for these coaches, you better bring it or they're going to put your tail on the sideline," Berry said. "But I know we will bring it. We've been talking about it, and it's like, the way Coach Kiff's been out there talking, you know he has faith in us.

"And, you know, we want to go out there and back him up."

Kiffin has littered his offensive, defensive and special teams depth charts with freshmen.

"It's hard to even explain to you how excited I am," said wide receiver Marsalis Teague, one of the many freshmen expected to play a significant role this season. "Running out of that 'T' and playing in front of 100,000 fans and playing with these guys and for these coaches ... goosebumps, man."

Added fellow freshman wideout Nu'Keese Richardson: "I think we all feel like something special is about to happen."

Something is about to happen. If it isn't special, Kiffin, his players and everyone else associated with UT will feel a backlash for their brashness.

about Wes Rucker...

Twitter - @wesrucker Facebook - /tfpvolsbeat

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