For the first time since the 2006-07 seasons, Tennessee will be in post-New Year’s, Florida bowls for consecutive years.
The Vols (8-4, 5-3 SEC) were officially selected on early Sunday evening to go to Outback Bowl (noon ET, Jan. 1, 2016; ESPN2) in Tampa Bay, Fla., for a matchup with No. 12 Northwestern (10-2, 6-2 Big 10). The Vols are meeting the Wildcats, a team that finished second in the Big 10 West this season, for the second time in history with the other matchup coming in the 1997 Citrus Bowl – a 48-28 win for the Vols.
“We are very excited and looking forward to representing the University of Tennessee, the state of Tennessee and all of Vol Nation in the 30th Annual Outback Bowl,” said Butch Jones. “This will be a great opportunity and challenge for our football program as we will be facing the 12th-ranked football team in the country in Northwestern.”
Both teams enter the Jan. 1 bowl on a five-game winning streak. The Wildcats pulled off wins against Nebraska, Penn State, Purdue, Wisconsin and Illinois over the final five weeks of the season by an average of 5.4 points per game. The Vols rolled more convincingly over the last five weeks, beating Kentucky, South Carolina, North Texas, Missouri and Vanderbilt by an average margin of 18.8 points per game.
Led by alum and 10th year head coach Pat Fitzgerald (70-55 overall, 1-4 in bowl games), the Wildcats had a successful 2015 campaign that, while marked by blowout losses to Iowa (40-10) and Michigan (38-0), also had quality wins at Duke and No. 23 Wisconsin and against No. 5 Stanford and Penn State.
The Wildcats are 3-7-1 all-time against the SEC, but have won three straight against the conference including a 2013 Gator Bowl victory over Mississippi State and consecutive regular-season games over Vanderbilt in 2010 and 2012.
The Vols are 9-4 all-time against the Big 10 with wins in four of their last five games. Tennessee defeated Iowa 45-28 last season in the TaxSlayer (Gator) Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla.
This year marks the first back-to-back bowl appearance for the same head coach at Tennessee since Phillip Fulmer took the Vols to consecutive Outback Bowls in 2007-08. Per his most recent contract, Tennessee head coach Butch Jones will receive a $200,000 bonus for playing in the Outback Bowl – a bowl that has the second highest per-team payout ($3.5 million) of any SEC-affiliated standard bowl game, behind only the Citrus Bowl. That does not include the New Year’s Six bowl games or College Football Playoff games.
The Vols are allotted 15 practice periods between the end of the regular season and the Jan. 1 game. Some of those will take place in Knoxville with the final few occurring near the bowl site in Tampa Bay.
Team Comparison (National Ranks)
Total offense: Tennessee 49th (422.5 ypg) | Northwestern 115th (332.6 ypg)
Scoring offense: Tennessee 33rd (34.3 ppg) | Northwestern 112th (20.7 ppg)
Passing offense: Tennessee 93rd (199 ypg) | Northwestern 120th (139.3 ypg)
Rushing Offense: Tennessee 21st (223.5 ypg) | Northwestern 38th (193.2 ypg)
Total defense: Tennessee 46th (370.4 ypg) | Northwestern 11th (310.5 ypg)
Scoring defense: Tennessee 25th (21.2 ppg) | Northwestern 7th (16.4 ppg)
Passing defense: Tennessee 56th (217.2 ypg) | Northwestern 25th (192.7 ypg)
Rushing defense: Tennessee 49th (153.2 ypg) | Northwestern 14th (117.8 ypg)
Turnover margin: Tennessee 47th (+3) | Northwestern 33rd (+5)