Outback outcome is huge

The Tennessee Vols laid an egg in their last bowl outing. They want to lay a foundation in their next one.

Obviously, defeating Wisconsin Jan. 1 in the 2008 Outback Bowl would do a lot for Tennessee's present. It also could be a big step toward building a brighter future. Consider the potential benefits:

- Produce a 10-win season for the first time since 2004.

- Provide a much-needed boost on the recruiting trail.

- Give returning players some momentum heading into spring practice.

- Improve Tennessee's preseason ranking for 2008.

- Create some excitement and optimism among the fan base.

- Convince some underclassmen to return for '08 instead of turning pro.

Back-to-back 9-4 records seem to have righted the ship following a 5-6 disaster in 2005, but a strong showing vs. Wisconsin is needed to help Tennessee take the next step in 2008. As a result, this could one of the biggest games of head coach Phillip Fulmer's 15-year tenure.

"I think it's huge," senior quarterback Erik Ainge said. "Obviously, from a recruiting standpoint and getting 10 wins.... Like Coach Fulmer told us the other day: 'We've got the wheels back rolling – gone to bowl games and the guys coming back next year can take it to that next level."

Rightly or wrongly, a lot of people view a double-digit victory total as a successful season and a single-digit victory total as a disappointment. Tennessee's players understand this.

"Ten wins is a good number to have," junior receiver Joshn Briscoe said. "Nine-and-five is a big difference from ten-and-four. We're going out every day (in practice) wanting to get that 10th win."

Four Vol juniors – tailback Arian Foster, linebacker Jerod Mayo, guard Anthony Parker and punter Britton Colquitt – are considering jumping to the NFL. A big win in the Outback Bowl and the prospect of a memorable season in '08 might convince all four to return.

In addition to helping the Vols keep the quality players they've got, a big bowl win could help them bring in some quality newcomers. Tennessee's recruiting year is off to a sluggish start, and the impending losses of staffers David Cutcliffe and Trooper Taylor (probably Kurt Roper and Matt Luke, as well) is not going to help. Prospects watch bowl games, however, so an impressive showing vs. Wisconsin could help the Vols close strongly on the recruiting front.

"Winning those bowl games makes it a whole lot more fun to go into that school, that home or that recruiting visit," offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe said. "It's a big difference in winning and losing that ball game."

Tennessee reeled in a first-rate signing class last February. If the Vols can fill in some weak spots with this February's class, they could be an SEC title contender in 2008.

"I think all the tools are here with the young players they've brought in and they're going to bring in," Ainge said. "It's just a matter of time."

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