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The QB shuffle

An open receiver streaked down the middle. The pass went toward a well-covered target near the sideline. And that quickly, the number on the quarterback's jersey changed.

Poof!

Number 7: out.

Number 8: in.

"Heck, quarterback is just like any other position," said Florida coach Steve Spurrier, who replaced senior Jesse Palmer with freshman Rex Grossman in mid drive of last week's 55-0 rout of Middle Tennessee State. "If we think we've got a player who can play a little better than the guy who's playing, we're going to give him a chance around here."

Keep those programs handy.

Still looking for that perfect fit, No. 6 Florida and No. 11 Tennessee could try as many as six quarterbacks on for size in their Southeastern Conference showdown Saturday at Neyland Stadium. Both have picked their starters _ Palmer for the Gators, freshman A.J. Suggs for the Volunteers _ but neither is completely comfortable with its choice.

Or its backups.

Or its backups' backups.

"It's unusual going into a game of this magnitude for both teams to be unsettled at quarterback because that position is critical from a decision-making standpoint," CBS analyst Todd Blackledge said. "And it's a lot more unsettled in Knoxville than it is in Gainesville."

Need a quarterback with big-game experience but a pattern of inconsistency? Try Palmer. Want one with savvy in the huddle but only nine career pass attempts? Try Suggs.

Want one with chutzpah and a quick release but no big-game experience? Try UF's Grossman. Want one with loads of talent but has yet to take his first collegiate snap? Try UT's Casey Clausen.

Want one who hasn't lost a game since eighth grade but still is learning the offense? Try UF's Brock Berlin. Want one who understands the offense but is unspectacular executing it? Try UT's Joey Mathews.

Try, try again.

That's what Spurrier and Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer have been doing since practice began, and neither is closer to a permanent solution.

"Those guys, they have their good moments and bad moments," Spurrier said of his quarterback trio. "One week one of them looks better than the other. One week Rex looks better than all of them. Sometimes Brock looks better, and sometimes Jesse does. But I think Jesse is our best quarterback to go up there and play against Tennessee. And Rex is next."

Tennessee's quandary largely is the result of Chris Simms changing his mind. Simms, the son of former NFL quarterback Phil Simms, made an oral commitment to Tennessee two years ago but signed with Texas. He would have been a redshirt freshman this season, the obvious choice to succeed Tee Martin.

Instead, Tennessee has tough choices.

Mathews, a redshirt sophomore, won the job in spring drills based on experience. But he was intercepted on the third play of UT's 19-16 victory against Southern Mississippi and later replaced by Suggs, a redshirt freshman with an aura of control.

Mathews was 9-of-15 for 50 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Suggs was 4-of-9 for 75 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions.

"A.J. has a nice poise about him," Fulmer said. "You like his game management style, the way he gets in and out of the huddle and makes corrections when guys get lined up wrong. You just like his countenance. And he has a little more mobility and has really improved throwing the football since he's been here."

Clausen, a true freshman and perhaps the most talented of the three, was sidelined in the preseason by tendinitis in his throwing shoulder. He returned to practice this week and likely would be first off the bench because Mathews remains hampered by a minor knee injury.

Got all that?

"It could be that we play a couple of guys, maybe A.J. and whoever's healthy," Fulmer said. "I don't know how we're going to do it."

Tennessee is dealing with its first quarterback controversy since 1994, when a true freshman named Peyton Manning beat out Branndon Stewart. Already the Vols are sick of it.

"We're so tired of the quarterback situation," star receiver Cedrick Warren said. "Whoever it is in the huddle is who we're going to play with. I've said all along that A.J. is a gamer. I think he's going to show everybody that he can get the job done. But I don't think Joey or Casey is going to stand there and let A.J. just have the job. Something tells me that those guys are going to battle it out all season long."

The Gators are accustomed to the quandary. Florida has not had one quarterback play an entire season since Danny Wuerffel won the Heisman Trophy in 1996, the national championship season. Palmer is especially familiar, having battled former Gator Doug Johnson for playing time the past three seasons.

"It's not frustrating at all," Palmer said. "I've been in quarterback controversies the last couple years. If anything, it pushes you harder in practice."

Two years ago, Palmer and Johnson alternated snaps in Tennessee's 20-17 overtime victory. Palmer completed his first 10 passes and finished 16-of-23 for 210 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

"Experience is only good if you're a good player and make really good decisions and know what you're doing," Spurrier said. "But you just base it on performance after a while. Jesse, hopefully, will be ready. Hopefully, he can go the distance up there."

One quarterback play an entire game? Now, that would be a switch.

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