Back to the Outback

For the second consecutive year, Tennessee is headed to the Outback Bowl in Tampa – a bowl that just a few years ago didn't seem to favor the Vols.

Outback officials officially extended the offer Sunday, and the Vols quickly accepted.

Tennessee, No. 15 in the AP poll and No. 18 in the coaches poll, will play Wisconsin, No. 18 in the AP poll but No. 15 in the coaches' poll.

In 2003, the Vols (9-3) were No. 6 in the nation but the Outback passed on Tennessee, and UT fell to the Peach Bowl.

This time, Jim McVay, president of the Outback Bowl, welcomed Tennessee with open arms.

``We're thrilled to have the Vols back in the Outback,'' McVay said. ``This will be a classic matchup between two high-profile schools with excellent passion. We couldn't be happier.''

This marks the fourth time UT has played in the same bowl two seasons in a row. The Vols played in the Florida Citrus Bowl in the 1995-96 seasons, the Fiesta Bowl in 1998-99 seasons and the Peach Bowl in 2002-2003 seasons.

It marks the third time in eight years the Outback has had repeat teams from the SEC, joining South Carolina and Florida.

Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton had hoped for an SEC Championship and a berth in the Sugar Bowl.

``Given the alternative, we're excited about being in Tampa,'' Hamilton said. ``It's an opportunity to be in another New Year's Day game.''

Hamilton said UT's reputation for travel, tradition and showing well on TV were factors that helped the Outback picked Tennessee over Auburn.

The payout is $3.1 million per team. UT's allotment is 11,000 tickets. Ticket price is $65 each.

Hamilton is confident UT will sell its allotment based on a huge turnout at the Georgia Dome for the SEC title game. He estimated the crowd at 3-to-1 or 4-to-1 in favor of Tennessee which he said was ``nothing shot of phenomenal.'' Other estimates had the crowd at about 65 percent for UT.

The pre-bowl SEC title game order for the Outback was 4,000, Hamilton said.

Hamilton also said he felt reports about a split UT fan base weren't accurate.

``I don't know that I fully believe we had a divided fan base, not as much as the media projected,'' Hamilton said. ``Having said that, I think it's important to win a 10th game against a quality opponent and get into the top 15.''

Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said he would like for his team to atone for last year's 20-10 loss to Penn State in the Outback Bowl.

``I think we had a great time last year,'' Fulmer said. ``We need to put closure on this season, kick off the next season with a bowl game and send the seniors out in fine fashion.''

It won't be easy. Wisconsin is 9-3 in its last 12 bowl games while Fulmer is 2-5 in his last seven.

``That's impressive, absolutely impressive,'' Fulmer said of the Badgers' bowl record. ``A bowl game is important because it's the last taste in your mouth about the team. If you win, you hope it carries the momentum into the next season. If you lose, you want to turn it into a motivational factor.''

Tennessee and Wisconsin have met before – the 1981 Garden State Bowl. Fulmer was a second-year UT assistant. Wisconsin coach Bart Bielema said he was 11 years old and didn't watch the game.

Bielema has seen enough of Tennessee to be impressed. He started watching tape of the Vols the last two weeks anticipating UT might be his bowl opponent.

``They have very talented players,'' Bielema said.

Bielema said the fact UT has allowed just four sacks all season is impressive.

``It jumps out at me big time,'' he said.

Wisconsin has defeated its last two SEC bowl opponents – Auburn and Arkansas.

His thoughts on the SEC?

``The biggest thing is, the SEC brings tremendous speed at every position, not just the skill positions but the offensive and defensive lines,'' Bielema said.

Wisconsin brings a balanced offense that features a 1,000-yard back (P.J. Hill), a gifted receiver (Travis Beckum (73 for 960) and a solid quarterback (Tyler Donovan (2,452 yards, 16 touchdowns, 57.9 percent completion.)

UT and Wisconsin have one thing in common: Each went 7-0 at home.

One of the Badgers' home wins was a 45-31 scare to The Citadel. The Badgers beat Iowa, Michigan State, and Michigan. They lost to Illinois (37-34), Penn State (38-7) and Ohio State (38-17).

Fulmer announced linebacker Ryan Karl has a chip in his elbow and outside linebacker Nevin McKenzie has a small fracture in his ankle. Fulmer said additional tests will indicate if either can play in the Outback Bowl.

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