Focused or flat?

Here's the ultimate get-rich-quick scheme: Figure out which bowl teams are most excited about playing, then bet the house on them.

It happens every year at this time: Team A lacks focus because its players are coming off a tough loss or moping because they thought they deserved a better bowl. Conversely, Team B is "grateful for the opportunity." Team B wins almost every time.

So, which team will be most excited about playing in the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1, Tennessee or Wisconsin? Not surprisingly, the guys who wear orange insist it will be Tennessee, even though this will be the Vols' second trip to Tampa in the past 12 months.

"You'd be surprised at how excited they are to play in a New Year's Day bowl game," offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe said. "I know we're going back to the same venue but it's got a different feel to it. This TEAM has a different feel to it. I think they're excited about it. We're anxious to redeem ourselves from the (SEC) Championship Game."

That's an interesting comment. The Vols had heavily favored LSU on the ropes in the SEC Championship Game only to squander a fourth-quarter lead and lose 21-14. Cutcliffe admits that the setback was gut-wrenching.

"I'm going to be real honest with you: That's a game I'm going to have a hard time getting over," he said. "I'm real passionate about this team and the fight to get there (Atlanta) and the energy that was consumed to get there. To have it end that way was devastating."

You'd think a "devastating" loss would leave Tennessee flat heading into its bowl game. Cutcliffe disagrees, noting: "I think that helps generate some energy."

Senior defensive end Xavier Mitchell says the loss to LSU left a bad taste that the Vols can only erase by beating Wisconsin.

"Absolutely," he said. "We've got one more opportunity to come out with a W, and we definitely have to take advantage of the opportunity we have. Wisconsin's a good team, and that makes it even better."

Junior wide receiver Josh Briscoe says Tennessee's offensive players are especially motivated to redeem themselves after mustering just 14 points in the SEC Championship Game.

"We stalled a lot in the first half," he said. "That first drive we took it down and scored, then we couldn't get in a rhythm after that. It was execution (that cost UT the game). We'd have times where a receiver didn't catch the ball or a running back didn't hit the right hole or a lineman didn't block the right guy.

"Those things, all together, hurt you. It takes 11 people on offense to execute and make a play successful. Defensively, you can run around a little bit more. Offensively, you've got to be precise in what you do, and I don't think we did that well in the first half."

After being grossly outplayed by LSU in the first half, Tennessee played well enough to win in the second half. The Vols twice moved inside the Tiger 25-yard line in the final seven minutes but came away empty each time.

"Coach Cutcliffe was very disappointed in the way we played the first half," Briscoe recalled. "We came out the second half with a little bit more focus and we moved the ball a lot better the second half. But we still didn't put the points on the board we needed to."

Tennessee's players insist they are motivated to give their best effort on Jan. 1, saying they view this as a bounce-back game. Their head coach believes the Vols will play well vs. the Badgers, regardless of the motivation.

"I thought we gave a fantastic effort against a very fine LSU team," Phillip Fulmer said. "As we have made that progress, we don't want to go back. We want to play our very best against Wisconsin, bounce-back or not."


Inside Tennessee Top Stories