One of Florida State coach Bobby Bowden's biggest concerns in August was his team's dearth of seniors.
He had only one returning senior starter on offense (FB Lamarr Glenn) and two on defense (LB Lamont Green and FS Dexter Jackson).
"We've always depended on seniors for leadership and I think that's a trait of most good football teams," he said. "I thought it was going to be tough. But you know what? As the season's progressed, those seniors have probably given us as good a leadership as we've ever had. I don't know how they've done it."
Green said to look no further than the Sept. 12 loss at North Carolina State. That's when he and his fellow seniors took control.
"We weren't being as vocal as we needed to be; we weren't getting the points across to the younger guys that needed to be gotten across," he said. "We're seniors. This is our football team. The younger guys have a chance to come back, but for me and Dexter and Demetro (Stephens) and guys like that, it's our last chance. Once we realized it, we could make the rest of the team realize it."
WAITING IN THE WINGS: Although FSU freshman QB Jared Jones doesn't expect to play Monday, he has been preparing intensely just in case. But if he doesn't play, his season will have been just three series against Wake Forest.
"At first, to tell you the truth, I was maybe a little bit disappointed (to play in that game)," he said. "But I can't get disappointed about that. We're in the national championship, and you can't ask for anything better than this."
COMING-OUT PARTY: FSU WR Laveranues Coles, who didn't have the breakout season most expected, said Monday's game could set the tone for his senior season. "If I go out and have a good game, I would kind of prove myself to everyone and make a name for myself."
A FOOT-HOLD: FSU All-America PK Sebastian Janikowski hasn't had to kick a last-second FG like Tennessee's Jeff Hall, but he has been practicing for that moment. He admitted he missed one Friday _ a 55-yarder _ but "if it comes down to a field goal, I should be ready."
AILING: Tennessee LB Al Wilson missed Saturday's media session with stomach virus. He was limited in Friday's practice. The illness apparently has affected a few teammates, as well as Bowden.
SECOND CHANCE: To think he nearly went home to Florida. Travis Henry, Mr. Florida in his senior season at Frostproof High in 1996, who rushed for a national record 4,087 yards to eclipse Emmitt Smith's records, thought about leaving Tennessee after his freshman season.
After all, another Vols tailback, Jamal Lewis, led freshman runners in the nation last season. And when torn cartilage showed up in tests just before last season, Henry got behind his competition. Lewis rushed for 1,364 yards; Henry had just 4 yards on two carries.
"I was supposed to come in here and play right away," he said. "There was all that hope, people comparing me to Emmitt Smith and all that. I was very close to leaving."
After talking to his mother and his high school coach, Henry decided to stay. The Vols are glad he did.
Lewis injured a knee in the fourth game and was lost for the season. Henry became the team's leading rusher, with 970 yards on 176 carries and seven TDs.
"I'm glad I made the right decision," Henry said.
_ BOB HARIG, BRIAN LANDMAN