KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer still gets the jitters at the start of football season, even though he's been through 16 of them already.
``This time of year I start getting butterflies about all the things that can happen in a game,'' he said Tuesday. ``You try to cover every situation that can happen.''
His fear isn't unfounded. The 18th-ranked Volunteers have little room for error with so many tough opponents coming during the first half of the season, starting with UCLA on Monday.
Tennessee had a rough start last season from the very first drive of their first game at California, when a fumble by quarterback Erik Ainge was returned by Golden Bears linebacker Worrell Williams 44 yards for a score.
After struggling with tackling and giving up several more huge plays, the Vols went on to lose to Cal 45-31 and struggled to recover from the loss for the first half of the season.
``Our main goal is to get started early,'' safety Eric Berry said. ``Not just as a defense, but as a whole team. We got started late last season, and we just want to (start) it off right this year.''
Fulmer said he and his players learned a lot from last year's opener that they carried with them through the 2007 season and this year's spring and fall practices, much as they learned a lot from their huge season-opening 35-18 win against California in 2006.
``We didn't play as well in the kicking game and taking care of the football and tackling a very fine back. And UCLA certainly has a very fine back,'' Fulmer said.
Fulmer said it takes both physical and mental toughness to play at a place like the Rose Bowl.
To counter some of the challenges from traveling across multiple time zones, Tennessee will keep to a regular practice routine through the end of Friday. They'll fly to California on Saturday afternoon and sleep in on Sunday.
The Vols have also spent a bit of preseason camp preparing for what they expect to see from not only UCLA, but also UAB, Florida and Auburn, their next three opponents.
Coaches have preached to the players how important having sound fundamentals can carry them through the early season jitters and the pressure of playing in front of a prime-time national television audience as the Vols will do when they travel to Pasadena.
There's still some unknowns that the Vols won't be able to resolve before facing UCLA. The Bruins enter the 2008 season with a new coach in Rick Neuheisel, new offensive coordinator Norm Chow and a slew of new offensive staff members.
They've been watching as much tape as they can get their hands on, though. Tape of Neuheisel's work with the Baltimore Ravens and the Washington Huskies and Chow's work with the Tennessee Titans and even previous work with USC and BYU.
Of course, UCLA will face Tennessee first-year offensive coordinator Dave Clawson and his new offensive staff.
``First games are hard because you really don't know 100 percent what you're going to get, but that really goes both ways. They're not 100 percent sure what they're going to get from us either,'' Fulmer said.

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