Nebraska and Tennessee both have something to prove.
Both teams not only want another notch in the column but also would love to get back some of the mojo of having seasons that went spiraling downward after being entrenched in the top 10 of national polls.
The prestigious pair have a combined 105 bowl appearances and two of the most passionate fanbases anywhere with the Cornhuskers playing in front of sold-out home crowds every game since Nov. 3, 1962.
They've played just twice in history with Nebraska claiming victories in two bowl games.
Lean more about this Big Ten-Southeastern Conference showdown that kicks off Friday by getting answers from Nebraska beat reporter Josh Harvey of Big Red Report.
InsideTennessee: What sticks out about this Nebraska team? Where do the Cornhuskers hang their hat and say, "Our ____ can hang with anyone in the country?"
Josh Harvey: To be honest, I think that might be the problem. They don’t do anything well enough to be considered one that “can hang with anyone in the country” in a certain category. They do rank in the top 25 in the country in total defense, but after giving up 62 to Ohio State and 40 to Iowa, I have to look more at a favorable schedule for the reason they are in the top 25.
IT: Tennessee beat its last two bowl opponents — then-No. 13 Northwestern and Iowa — by a combined 90-34. Half the battle in these contests is motivating teams that are told by some that they're nothing more than an "exhibition." Do the Cornhuskers want to be in the Music City Bowl? Do you think they'll fight for four quarters with a burning desire to cap the year with a win?
Harvey: There is no doubt the season didn’t end the way they wanted, losing three out of their last five games after starting 7-0. A win would get Nebraska to 10 wins, quite an accomplishment for a senior class that has been through a lot in the course of their career. Nebraska hasn’t won double-digit games since 2012. I think they also realize a bowl win can change the narrative in the offseason — similar to last year when they beat UCLA in the Foster Farms bowl, despite finishing the season just 6-7. Nebraska is going to be without a few starters. If Tennessee comes out and punches them hard in the mouth right away and Nebraska struggles to respond early, I think it could get out of hand.
IT: Tennessee has allowed 1,983 total yards in its last three games combined. Who are the most talented playmakers on the Nebraska offense that could strike fear into the hearts of the Volunteers?
Harvey: Nebraska senior running back Terrell Newby will be motivated to end his career on a solid note. A former Scout four-star prospect, Newby’s career is considered a disappointment by some, but he will still finish in Husker history as a top 25 back when it comes to rushing yards. With quarterback Tommy Armstrong likely out, Newby will get a heavy dose of carries. In addition to Armstrong, senior wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp will be out. Look for sophomore Stanley Morgan to receive the most targets. Morgan could be a guy who has a breakout season in 2017.
IT: The hamstring of Tommy Armstrong Jr. sounds like it may keep him out of the season finale. If the starting quarterback cannot go in his last college game, what does Ryker Fyfe bring to the table?
Harvey: Fyfe is a senior who knows the offense well but doesn’t bring the athletic ability Armstrong does to the position. He’s a guy who won’t take a lot of risks downfield and despite his seven career interceptions in 129 attempts, he will do his best to take care of the football. He looked solid against Maryland earlier in the year, another bowl team, completing 23 of 37 passes for 220 yards and a score.
IT: Did Nebraska sell out its allotment of tickets? How do you think Cornhuskers fans will travel for the Music City Bowl?
Harvey: Nebraska always travels well and according to reports Nebraska did sell out its allotment, which is nothing new. I think the university and the Music City Bowl did a solid job selling Nashville as a great bowl city with lots to do. Is it the Outback Bowl, where many felt Nebraska was headed? No. But there are far worse places the Huskers could be playing this holiday season.