Tennessee was in the same situation two years ago, carrying a 9-3 record into its Cotton Bowl shootout with Texas A&M. The highly motivated Vols played perhaps their best game of the season that day in Dallas, romping 38-7.
"It's the same kind of scenario," head coach Phillip Fulmer says. "We talk about leaving the right kind of foundation, starting on next year. That's exactly what we want to do – finish the season in grand style against a traditionally great football program."
Junior receiver Robert Meachem remembers the feeling of satisfaction that came with a 10-win season in 2004. He'd like to experience that again this season – not just for himself but for his older teammates.
"It helps our seniors go out in style," he says. "And if you get that 10th win it may help you next year in the polls, stuff like that."
Tennessee's players practiced Saturday and Sunday, then took off Monday and today to gear up for final exams. Fulmer is pleased with the practice tempo he has seen so far. He believes the Vols are ready to bounce back from a lousy performance in the regular-season finale against Kentucky.
"They worked very well," the head man says. "We watched the (UK) tapes, so they knew they didn't play like they're capable of playing. Obviously, we played well enough to win the game, and that's a plus, but we didn't play as good as we're capable of playing at all."
And not as well as they'll have to play to reach the 10-win plateau on Jan. 1.