UT had no shot at Capital One

There once was a time when Tennessee was a hot property for a bowl selection committee. The Vols' fans traveled well. They spent money. They painted a town orange. And they helped position the football program into the best possible bowl game.

But that is no longer the case.

Sunday was once again proof.

Tennessee had hoped it was headed to the Capital One Bowl in Orlando, the most prestigious of the non-BCS bowls. It had hoped to play Wisconsin, a top 10 team, and gain the higher pay day of the other possible destinations – the Outback Bowl and Cotton Bowl.

But in truth, Tennessee was not a strong player for Orlando.

The Vols' recent history with bowls was a factor. Tennessee fans haven't traveled consistently well since going to the 1998 national championship game in the Fiesta Bowl.

Tennessee had trouble selling its allotment in the 2000 Fiesta Bowl, the 2001 Cotton Bowl and the 2002 Florida Citrus Bowl. Tennessee did better for the 2003 and 2004 Peach Bowls and the 2005 Cotton Bowl.

But the Capital One Bowl wasn't convinced Tennessee could outdraw Arkansas or Auburn. In the early vote of the three teams, Tennessee was easily eliminated. Arkansas had 92 votes, Auburn 71 and Tennessee only 19.

Arkansas was then the solid pick over Auburn, 79-10.

Arkansas had 13,500 pre-sold tickets to Orlando compared to 7,000 for Tennessee. If you don't think that gets the selection committee's attention, think again.

The Capital One had other reasons to take Arkansas. The Hogs were ranked higher in the voting polls and in the BCS. They defeated Tennessee 31-14 in November. And they won the West Division.

The Capital One also wanted to protect the loser of the SEC Championship game.

Wisconsin officials also indicted to the Capital One Bowl that the Badgers would sell more tickets if Arkansas was the opponent. Wisconsin sold 12,000 – its allotment – and asked for another 1,000 with the promise of taking more.

Yet, there was Tennessee with 7,000 pre-sold tickets.

Some were surprised the folks in Orlando opted for Arkansas because many pegged the Hogs for the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, a popular and relatively close destination for thousands of Arkansas fans.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported Arkansas preferred the Cotton Bowl. A Capital One official told me he thought Arkansas was headed to the Cotton Bowl. An Outback official told me Sunday evening he was surprised Tennessee wasn't headed to Orlando.

Frank Broyles, Arkansas athletic director, called the Capital One Bowl to report he was upset with the article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution and to pronounce the Hogs would prefer the Capital One Bowl. Arkansas' last trip to Orlando was after the 1998 regular season when the Hogs sold almost 15,500 tickets for a game against Michigan.

Broyles' call carried weight with the Capital One voters. Those voters also felt it would be hard to justify taking Tennessee over Arkansas, considering the polls and the head-to-head outcome.

One voter pointed out UT didn't go to a bowl last year and he felt the Vols might sell up to 17,000 tickets. But 13,500 in hand outweighed the possibility of Tennessee selling 10,000 more.

With the Capital One determined not to rematch Auburn-Wisconsin, that made Arkansas an easy choice.

That puts Tennessee in the Tampa for the first time since the 1992 season. Penn State is a better matchup for the Vols, who would love to record a 10-win season on the heels of going 5-6. But it also shows UT has lost its bowl luster.

In 2003, the Vols were No. 6 in the BCS and dropped all the way to the Peach Bowl.

Sunday's decline wasn't as dramatic, but it once again underscores that Tennessee is no longer the darling of the bowls.

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