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. Nebraska
ESPN (Schlabach): Music City Bowl vs. Minnesota
CBS (Palm): TaxSlayer Bowl vs. Georgia Tech
SBNation (Kirk): TaxSlayer Bowl vs. Minnesota
RTI’s take: It’s bowl selection day, and UT should know its postseason destination later this afternoon.
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 today.
We’ll start with the Citrus Bowl. Many Tennessee fans have written this possibility off, but here’s what could happen: Auburn will likely 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 group 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. We completely disagree with the CBS projection of UT to the TaxSlayer against Georgia Tech. The Vols play the Yellow Jackets in 2017, so there’s just no reason to believe that the league would set the Vols up with that matchup.
There also likely won’t be a return to 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. Still, the draw of a potentially full stadium and a decent matchup, especially if a team like Nebraska is the choice from the Big 10, very well could be enough for this to be the most logical spot for UT.
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.