Tennessee was already bowl eligible heading into Saturday’s contest with Vanderbilt, but the Vols boosted their bowl stock with a decisive victory over their in-state foe.
UT extended their winning streak to five games with a 28-10 win over Vanderbilt, ending their three-game losing skid to the Commodores in the process. With the victory, Tennessee improved to 7-5 on the season and 5-3 in SEC play, securing their first winning record in the conference since 2015. Tennessee also finished third in the SEC East, their best finish in the division since back-to-back second place finishes in 2015 and 2016.
Now that the Vols are 7-5 and finish as the third-best team in the East, where could their bowl destination be this postseason? And who will they play?
Both the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl down in Jacksonville, Florida and the Outback Bowl in Tampa, Florida have been a popular pick for Tennessee by media outlets making bowl projections. And a common opponent has also started to emerge as a near-consensus.
Over on ESPN, both Kyle Bonagura and Mark Schlabach have projected the Vols to the Outback Bowl on January 1st, and both have Tennessee facing off with Minnesota. Brett McMurphy of Stadium.com shares that same prediction, as does Joe Tansey of Bleacher Report. All three outlets think the Vols and Golden Gophers will play each other in the Outback Bowl.
Minnesota ended the regular season with a 38-17 loss at the hands of Wisconsin. The Golden Gophers lost two of their final three games of the season, falling 23-19 to Iowa before beating Northwestern 38-22 then losing to Wisconsin. Minnesota had started the year 9-0 before stumbling down the stretch.
On the season, Minnesota is 10-2 with both of those losses coming in the last three weeks The Golden Gophers beat No. 4 Penn State 31-26 back on November 9th but lost to the two other ranked teams on their schedule. Minnesota is currently ranked No. 15 in the latest AP Poll.
Tennessee and Minnesota have played a grand total of one time in football, with the Vols defeating the Golden Gophers 21-14 in the Liberty Bowl in 1986.
The TaxSlayer Gator Bowl down in Jacksonville on January 2nd is another popular pick for the Vols. Bill Bender of Sporting News has Tennessee matched up with Iowa in the Gator Bowl while 247Sports projects the Vols to take on Indiana in the same bowl. Steven Lassan of Athlon Sports has the Vols in the Gator Bowl as well, only he has UT taking on Michigan.
The last time Tennessee played in the TaxSlayer Bowl after the 2014 season, their opponent was the Iowa Hawkeyes, the same team Bill Bender projects the Vols to face-off against in the TaxSlayer Bowl this year. Tennessee trounced the Hawkeyes 45-28 to finished the 2014 season with a 7-6 record. This year’s Iowa team looks better than the 2014 version, however, as the Hawkeyes are currently ranked 18th in the AP Poll and are 9-3 overall.
Tennessee and Indiana have only played once in college football, with the Vols defeating the Hoosiers 27-22 in the Peach Bowl to end the 1987 season. Indiana sits at 8-4 on the year, though they’ve lost to every ranked team they’ve played.
A Tennessee-Michigan match-up in the Outback Bowl would be intriguing to not only the fanbases of both teams, but also to many around college football. The two storied programs have only faced off once before, and that was a one-sided affair. The Vols blew out the Wolverines 45-17 in the Citrus Bowl to cap off the 2001 season.
This year’s Michigan team is ranked No. 17 in the AP Poll, though they’re fresh off a 56-27 shellacking at the hands of Ohio State to end the regular season. The Wolverines are 9-3 and also have losses to Wisconsin and Penn State.
The only major bowl projection not to predict Tennessee to a Florida bowl game is over on CBS Sports. Jerry Palm has the Vols slated to attend the Music City Bowl in Nashville, and the opponent he has UT matching up with is Louisville out of the ACC.
When Tennessee last made a bowl game in 2016, their destination was the Music City Bowl. The Vols beat Nebraska 38-24 to finish the season 9-4.
Louisville is 7-5 on the year, the same record as Tennessee. The Cardinals ended the season with a blowout loss to Kentucky, losing to their in-state rival 45-13 in Lexington. Before that, Louisville’s only losses had been to Notre Dame, Florida State, Clemson, and Miami.
Tennessee will finally be bowling for the first time in three years. Wherever UT ends up, fans are sure to travel in droves to watch the resurgent Vols in a bowl game.