Even if it does, though, a season that began with brash talk and national title hopes will end with bruised egos and a mid-level bowl game. While this fall proved upsetting to Vol fans, one can only imagine the impact it had on Vol players.
''Whatever the fan and media expectations were, ours were even higher,'' Clausen said. ''They (fans) are frustrated but see where WE'RE coming from. It's been tough. But I'm proud of the way we bounced back, the way we ended the season off.''
The Vols ''ended the season off'' with consecutive defeats of Mississippi State (35-17), Vanderbilt (24-0) and Kentucky (24-0) that raised their record to 8-4. Although there seems to be little at stake for them heading into the Peach Bowl, Big Orange players and coaches alike insist this game carries considerable significance.
''I said three or four games ago that if we could finish the season off in a really positive fashion it would be a great statement for this team and this senior class -- overcoming the adversity and disappointments that we've had,'' head coach Phillip Fulmer said. ''I've never played a game that wasn't important.''
Clausen echoed those sentiments, noting: ''We've got to cap this season off on a good note.''
Offensive coordinator Randy Sanders thinks a strong performance against Maryland could spill over into preparations for the 2003 season.
''I think it's important to go into the offseason with a good taste in our mouth,'' he said. ''It makes it a little easier to go into the weight room or go to the film room and watch tape on your own when you've won five of the last six.''