With Tennessee’s 24-20 win over Missouri, the Vols will official play in a bowl game this season.
After starting the season 1-4, Tennessee’s chances of getting bowl eligible were as low as five percent according to TeamRankings.com and the ESPN Football Power Index. But the Vols have pulled off the seemingly unthinkable, and they’ve won four-straight games and five of their last six contests to improve to 6-5 on the year.
Not only does UT have enough wins to qualify for a bowl game, but they have a very real possibility of finishing the 2019 regular season with a 7-5 record. Tennessee takes on Vanderbilt this upcoming weekend for the regular season finale, and UT opened as a 20-point favorite over the Commodores.
Now that Tennessee is officially bowl eligible for the first time since 2016, where will they go for a bowl game? And who will the Vols play?
According to the most recent bowl projections, Tennessee could end up in Florida, Nashville, or Memphis depending on how the final week of the season goes.
The TaxSlayer Gator Bowl is a popular choice for pundits trying to predict where the Vols will go bowling. Analysts at ESPN, 247Sports, and WatchStadium.com all project Tennessee to play in Jacksonville on January 2nd for a bowl game. But nobody can agree on an opponent, it seems.
Tennessee and Michigan have only played one time ever in college football, and it resulted in a 45-17 victory for the Vols in the Citrus Bowl to cap off the 2001 season. Michigan is currently the No. 10 team in the country, but they have a date with No. 2 Ohio State looming this upcoming weekend. The Wolverines are 9-2 on the season.
The last time the Vols played Iowa was four years ago in the very same TaxSlayer Bowl that 247Sports is projecting the two teams to this year. Tennessee handled the Hawkeyes 45-28 in that match-up. This year’s Iowa team is ranked No. 19 in the AP Poll and have an 8-3 record currently.
As for Wisconsin, Tennessee last faced them in the Outback Bowl after the 2007 season. The Vols beat the Badgers by a score of 21-17 to cap off Tennessee’s most recent 10-win season. The two teams met in 1981 in the Garden State Bowl as well, with Tennessee winning that contest 28-21. The Badgers are currently the No. 13 team in the country and have a 9-2 record. Wisconsin will face No. 9 Minnesota in their regular season finale.
What about the media outlets not predicting the Vols to the Gator Bowl?
Mark Schlabach of ESPN projects Tennessee to take on Penn State in the Outback Bowl on January 1st. The last time the Vols and Nittany Lions met was in the Outback Bowl, and it came after the 2006 season, with Penn State winning 20-10. The Vols are 2-3 all-time against Penn State, with all three losses coming in bowl games. Penn State is currently the No. 12 team in the country with a 9-2 record with losses to Minnesota and Ohio State. The Nittany Lions will face-off with Rutgers to end the regular season.
Both Sporting News and CBS Sports project the Vols to bowl games inside their own state borders. Bill Bender of Sporting News predicts Tennessee will face Iowa State in the Liberty Bowl in Memphis while Jerry Palm of CBS Sports has the Vols playing Louisville in the Music City Bowl in Nashville.
The Vols have only faced-off with Iowa State one time ever in football, and UT eked out a 23-21 victory over the Cyclones back in 1982. Iowa State is the No. 22 team in the country this season and currently have a 7-4 record. The Cyclones end the regular season with a match-up against Kansas State.
Tennessee and Louisville haven’t played in football since 1993. The Vols are a perfect 5-0 against the Cardinals. This year, Louisville is currently 7-4 and will end their 2019 regular season taking on the Kentucky Wildcats. Louisville’s only losses this year have been to Notre Dame, Florida State, Clemson, and Miami. The last time the Vols made a bowl game in 2016, they played in the Music City Bowl.
Wherever the Vols end up, expect a sea of orange to follow them. Tennessee fans are hungry for postseason play, and a bowl victory could mean the Vols’ first eight-win season since 2016.