The starters are receiver Lucas Taylor, defensive tackle Demonte Bolden and linebacker Rico McCoy. The key reserve is safety Ricardo Kemp. Also ruled out for the bowl game are receiver Kenny O'Neal and linebacker Chris Donald.
The most severe losses are Taylor and McCoy. Taylor started every game, leading the Vols in receptions (73), receiving yards (1,000) and receiving touchdowns (5). The 6-foot, 185-pound junior's 13.7 yards-per-catch average is best among players with at least 10 receptions.
McCoy started every game at weakside linebacker and was the team's second-leading tackler with 106. The 6-0, 215-pound sophomore ranks fourth on the team in big plays with 10.5.
Bolden started 12 of the 13 regular-season games, giving way to J.T. Mapu against Louisiana-Lafayette. Bolden finished with 26 tackles, including 5 tackles for loss. The 6-6, 290-pound junior from Chattanooga recorded two sacks, two hurries, two pass breakups, a fumble forced and a fumble recovery.
Kemp played some nickel back late in the season and was especially productive in Game 12 vs. Kentucky. The 5-11, 190-pound sophomore recorded 5 tackles, 2 sacks and an interception against the Wildcats.
O'Neal, who may be the Vols' greatest deep threat, wasn't much of a factor during the regular season. The 6-0, 195-pound junior caught just two passes all season, although one of them was a 49-yard touchdown bomb from backup QB Jonathan Crompton.
Donald, a 6-2, 225-pound freshman, sat out the 2007 season as a redshirt.
Head coach Phillip Fulmer was understandably disturbed to learn that some of his better players will not be eligible for bowl participation.
“We have every resource available through our academic center for academic success by our athletes in all of our sports,” he said in a statement released by the sports information office. “In most of these cases, it was simply the student-athlete not being accountable and doing their work.”
A notable exception was Taylor, who Fulmer said “passed enough hours but a new NCAA policy that went into affect this fall made him ineligible.”
The new policy requires athletes to pass six hours within the specified grade requirements of their major.
Although six Vols will not be eligible for the bowl game, their head coach noted that “One bright spot is the fact that all of these athletes will be in school spring semester.”
In keeping with his “glass half-full” nature, Fulmer praised the players who have excelled in the classroom this fall.
“I am proud of the young men that did a job well done,” he said. “We had 40 athletes earn a spot on the Thornton Center Honor Roll with a 3.0 or better, including 15 that earned a 3.5 or better. I’m also very proud of the 13 graduates this past semester.”