The Vols may not be happy about making a second consecutive trip to Atlanta but Peach Bowl representative Gary Stocum is thrilled to have the Vols, who will be the first top-10 team ever to play in the postseason game.
''I think Christmas came early in Atlanta,'' he said.
Tennessee was thought to have an outside shot at facing Florida State in the Orange Bowl, the Big XII runnerup (Kansas State) in the Fiesta Bowl or a Big Ten opponent in the Capital One Bowl. When the dust cleared, however, the Vols had to settle for the Peach. That the NCAA's seventh-ranked team should get a bowl bid reserved for the SEC's fifth-best team is a travesty, yet UT head man Phillip Fulmer was diplomatic when asked on a Sunday teleconference call if he was disappointed by this turn of events.
''This is a time to celebrate the fact we're going to the Peach Bowl,'' he said. ''Obviously, life is not always perfect or the way you want it to be, but we're going to enjoy the experience.''
When asked if the BCS system failed, Fulmer again ducked the question: ''I think this is a time for the Chik Fil-A Peach Bowl,'' he said. ''I'll be ready to talk about that in a couple of days.''
Georgia, though ranked below Tennessee after losing to LSU in the SEC Championship Game, got a bid to the Capital One Bowl -- which has much more prestige and a much higher payout that the Peach. Asked if he and his SEC counterparts will review the conference's bowl structure, UT athletics director Mike Hamilton replied: ''We choose to focus now on this opportunity to play Clemson in the Peach Bowl (but) I think we will take a hard look at that.''
Looking to put a positive spin on a second consecutive trip to the Peach Bowl, Fulmer noted that: ''We should have some familiarity with their setup. The Dome's a great, great place to play. And Jan. 2 bowl at 4:30, we'll be the only game on at that particuilar time, so we should get great exposure from that.''
Fulmer went on to describe UT's seniors as being ''extremely excited about all they can get from this experience.''
Hopefully, they'll get more from the experience than Tennessee's players did from last year's Peach Bowl. Tennessee came out flat and suffered a humiliating 30-3 loss to Maryland. Asked if the return trip to Atlanta offers a chance for redemption, Fulmer replied:
''I think it's an entirely different situation than last year. Last year we were dealing with so many injuries that we kind of limped into the bowl game. I don't hink anybody was pleased with that experience. We ran into an outstanding Maryland team and we didn't play very well. I hope we'll play better.''
Given up for dead after suffering back-to-back losses to Auburn and Georgia at midseason, the Vols won their last six regular-season games to finish 10-2 and crack the national top 10. This represented quite a rally.
''I'm extremely proud of our team for bouncing back,'' Fulmer said, subsequently adding: ''Rather than going in the tank, our team sucked it up and had some huge wins down the stretch. We played our best football at end. I have to be proud of wining the last six in a row.''
Asked if his team will be more motivated for the Peach Bowl, Fulmer replied: ''I think our team has played motivated for the last six ballgames and, really, for the year. It was tough having the loss to Georgia because we had really high aspirations, but we overcame that and played well down the stretch.
''I hope we can take that same attitude and improve as we take on a good Clemson team.''