Fulmer happy with Outback bid

Maybe he was on the road recruiting. Or maybe he was spending quality time with his family. This much is for sure: Tennessee's head football coach was NOT sitting by the phone when bowl bids were extended last year. Coming off a 5-6 season, his Vols weren't bowl-eligible.

That made accepting the berth opposite Penn State in the 2007 Outback Bowl Jan. 1 at Tampa especially sweet for Phillip Fulmer. This time last year he had failed to earn a bowl bid for the first time in his 13 years at the Vol helm. Offensive coordinator Randy Sanders had resigned and two more aides – receivers coach Pat Washington and offensive line coach Jimmy Ray Stephens – had been fired.

Given all of the above, it's no surprise that Fulmer's mood was considerably more upbeat on Bowl Bid Sunday than it was this time last year.

"It's night and day," the Vol coach said on an evening teleconference announcing the Outback matchup. "It's great to win.... I promise you: This is a whole lot more fun than last year."

Tennessee has seen bowl action in Tampa once previously, beating Boston College 38-23 on Jan. 1, 1993 in what was then known as the Hall of Fame Bowl. Interestingly enough, that was Fulmer's first bowl victory as a head man.

UT athletics director Mike Hamilton expressed pleasure with the Outback bid, noting that the game "matches two of the most tradition-rich programs in all of America. The opportunity to return to Tampa, where Coach Fulmer got his first bowl victory, is significant for us."

Tennessee brings a 9-3 record into the game. Penn State, coached by the legendary Joe Paterno, is 8-4.

"We're excited to be facing a great coach like Joe Paterno and a great team," Fulmer noted. "And we're excited to be back in a New Year's bowl with the prestige of the Outback Bowl."

Many observers thought Florida's 38-28 defeat of Arkansas in Saturday night's SEC Championship Game would bump the Razorbacks to the Cotton Bowl, leaving Tennessee to face sixth-ranked Wisconsin (11-1) in the Capital One Bowl. The Orlando-based bowl chose Arkansas to face the Badgers, however, and that allowed Tennessee to slip to the Outback.

Asked if he felt disappointed to be facing an unranked Penn State team rather than a highly ranked Wisconsin team, Fulmer replied: "I don't have any disappointment at all about facing a great team like Penn State in a New Year's bowl in a great city like Tampa. We're looking forward to it."

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