We’re keeping regular tabs on the updated bowl projections for the Vols. Tennessee (8-4, 4-4 SEC) will know its bowl destination on Sunday afternoon:
ESPN (McMurphy): Music City Bowl vs. Indiana
ESPN (Schlabach): Music City Bowl vs. Indiana
SBNation (Kirk): TaxSlayer Bowl vs. Miami
RTI’s take: With one day remaining until bowl selections, UT’s destination is still up in the air.
We do know that Tennessee’s loss at Vanderbilt knocked the Vols out of Sugar Bowl contention. Outside of that, there are a handful of scenarios that could unfold.
We’ll start with the Citrus Bowl. Many Tennessee fans have written this possibility off, but here’s what could happen: Auburn could end up in the Sugar Bowl, leaving the Citrus Bowl with its choice of any other bowl-eligible team outside of Auburn and Alabama. Florida was in Orlando last year, so the bowl might not want a repeat trip for the Gators.
That leaves the Citrus Bowl with the choice of Tennessee, LSU, Texas A&M, Georgia, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Kentucky and Arkansas. UT and A&M actually have the best records among that group. But it’s up to who the Citrus Bowl wants – it isn’t beholden to the standings. Tennessee generally travels well as a fanbase. The Vols would at least get a look, though several pundits seem to think that LSU will be the pick.
If that’s the case, Tennessee will be in the Pool of Six bowls (TaxSlayer, Outback, Belk, Liberty, Music City, Texas) that the SEC gets the final say in. The league will work with the teams and the bowls to match everybody up as logically as possible. The TaxSlayer, which hosted UT two years ago, came out this week and said Tennessee wasn’t on its list – so it seems unlikely that the Vols will return to Jacksonville. The same can be said for the Outback Bowl, where the Vols went last year.
That leaves the Belk, Music City, Liberty and Texas bowls. The Texas Bowl doesn’t make a ton of geographic sense for Tennessee. The other three are within a six-hour drive from UT, and could be in play.
The SEC and the Music City Bowl have to know that UT will sell more tickets than a team like, hypothetically, Arkansas. The Vols have, however, played a game in Nashville three times in the last three years and just played at Vandy, so there’s not much of a novelty factor to that trip.
The Belk Bowl in Charlotte – which is about three and a half hours from Knoxville – could make a lot of sense too. Tennessee hasn’t played a game in the state of North Carolina in recent history, though the Vols do have one on the schedule in 2018 in Charlotte. The Liberty Bowl, a six-hour trip from Knoxville, isn’t as logical as Music City or Belk, but the SEC has a lot of moving pieces, so it can’t be ruled out.