Ready to rumble

The problem with many bowl games is that one team shows up excited to play and hammers an opponent who, though equal or perhaps superior physically, isn't emotionally ready to compete.

Tennessee fans witnessed a perfect example of this scenario on Jan. 2, 2004. A Big Orange squad that boasted a 10-2 record and No. 6 national ranking was disheartened about falling to the Peach Bowl instead of getting a BCS bid. As a result, the lethargic Vols were trounced by an unranked but fired-up Clemson team 27-14.

Since Tennessee (6-6) and North Carolina (7-5) will have very little on the line when they meet Dec. 30 in the Music City Bowl, the outcome could hinge on which team does the best job of generating enthusiasm. For what it's worth, the Vols believe they will be more excited about playing than the Tar Heels.

"We're extremely excited," senior linebacker Nick Reveiz said. "There are so many good things to look forward to - staying in-state, playing a great-tradition team like North Carolina with so many good athletes."

Senior tight end Luke Stocker also believes the Vols will be pumped up for the Music City Bowl, largely because of momentum. They carry a four-game winning streak into the game after clawing their way back from a 2-6 start to the season.

"Oh, man, I think the fact we finished on a four-game winning streak to get ourselves into a bowl game tells everything," he said. "We're thrilled to death to be there. When we were sitting there at 2-6 no one was thinking we could do it, but we did. Now we're going to a bowl game and we want this W bad.

"We're going to stay focused. This coaching staff is not going to let anybody view this bowl game as a vacation. We're going there for business and to get the W. We worked hard to get here, so we might as well get the reward out of it ... not let it get spoiled now."

Junior tailback Tauren Poole agreed that the prospect of playing in Nashville and extending the four-game winning streak enhances Tennessee's enthusiasm for this game.

"It definitely does," he said. "We're excited to be playing at home. We're going to work hard because we know nothing's guaranteed. We're going to play our hardest."

Asked what he learned from last year's bowl game, a 37-14 beat-down at the hands of Virginia Tech in the Chick fil-A Bowl, Poole paused thoughtfully before responding.

"I learned that you shouldn't be excited about making a bowl game; you should be excited about WINNING a bowl game," he said. "You can't just be happy that you're there. You have to prepare to win."

Reveiz touched on the same theme.

"The excitement is great, and it's a good thing to have, but you can't bank on excitement," he said. "It's about the hard work you put in before.

"There's a great expression I've heard: 'You don't just win the game when you're under the lights. You win the game when you're putting in the preparation and hard work.' We've got a lot of work to put in to beat these guys."

Vol head man Derek Dooley was an assistant on LSU teams that went 3-2 in bowl play from 2000 to 2005 and head coach of a 2008 Louisiana Tech squad that won the Independence Bowl. He understands the importance of finishing a season on a high note.

"The bowls can be a great thing or they can be not so good," he said. "If you go out there and lay an egg in the bowl game, it isn't good for the program. We're going to do everything we can to make sure that doesn't happen.

"I'm not into the (idea that) it's a celebration deal. We have a game. We're going to go try to win the game just like they (opponents) are going to try to do. So that's how we're going to approach it."

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