Over the past 20 years, ever since their last top 10 finish in 2001, Tennessee football has played 12 games in five different bowls. One of those bowls, which would be considered the most elite among them, they have played in three different times, and they may be heading back there.
Brad Crawford of 247Sports projects that the Vols will play in the Tampa Bay Bowl game at the end of the year. The bowl was once known as the Outback Bowl, and while the Citrus Bowl was always considered the best non-BCS/New Years Six Bowl for the SEC, the Outback Bowl wasn’t ever far behind.
Rocky Top would face the NC State Wolfpack in Crawford’s projection. It would be the first meeting between the two schools since 2012 and Tennessee football’s first appearance in that bowl game since 2015-16. Here’s some of what Crawford said about the matchup.
With 17 starters back including one of the nation’s top quarterbacks in Devin Leary, this could be a special season in Raleigh for the Wolfpack. And Tennessee oozes with confidence heading into Josh Heupel’s second season as a potential second-place finisher in the SEC East behind Georgia. Should the Volunteers play here, that likely means an eight-win finish and top-tier spot in the SEC East race.
No other bowl has seen the Vols more this century than the Outback/Tampa Bay Bowl. If you count the 1999 season, then they have seen the Fiesta Bowl once, the Cotton Bowl, the Citrus Bowl once, the Music City Bowl twice and the Gator Bowl/TaxSlayer Bowl twice.
Now, they have been to the Peach Bowl three times as well. Also, it’s worth noting that the two times they went to the Cotton Bowl, it was during the BCS era, and at that time, the Cotton Bowl was actually less elite than the Tampa Bay/Outback Bowl.
This was once the Hall-of-Fame Bowl, and UT played there to end the 1992 season with Phillip Fulmer finally taking over full-time. Simply put, Rocky Top has plenty of experience playing down in Tampa to kick off the new year.
While finishing second in the SEC East to the Georgia Bulldogs would be a huge step forward for the Vols and is very possible in Josh Heupel’s second season, it would be a disappointment on a macro scale to see that resulted in going to the Tampa Bay bowl . That’s just because of the amount of bowls available.
You would hope that three teams get into the New Years Six with the SEC, at which point Tennessee football would be able to make the Citrus Bowl at least. Still, the Tampa Bay Bowl would be a great sign for the future of the Vols under Heupel.