UT future's still bright

Tennessee's 37-14 loss to Virginia Tech in the Chick fil-A Bowl has tempered the rampant optimism that many Vols fans felt just one week earlier.

That's a shame ... and a mistake.

Simply put, a bowl loss - no matter how ugly - doesn't necessarily stop a program's momentum. It merely interrupts it.

Take a look at Alabama. Humbled 31-17 by Utah in the Sugar Bowl last January, the Crimson Tide is 13-0 since then and one victory from winning the 2009 national title.

This is no aberration, either. There are examples galore of teams getting hammered in bowl play, then bouncing back in a big way the following season.

Consider these involving SEC teams:

- Florida, crushed 62-24 by Nebraska in the Fiesta Bowl at the end of the 1996 season, roared back to go 12-1 and beat Florida State 52-20 in the Sugar Bowl for the national title the following year.

- Alabama, drilled 35-7 by Virginia Tech in the Music City Bowl at the end of the 1998 season, came back to go 10-2 in 1999 before losing a 35-34 overtime thriller to Michigan in the Orange Bowl.

- LSU, trounced 35-20 by Texas in the Cotton Bowl at the end of the 2002 season, beat Oklahoma 21-14 in the Sugar Bowl a year later to cap off a 13-1 season and win the 2003 BCS national title.

- Florida, unceremoniously dumped 41-35 by a mediocre Michigan team in the Outback Bowl following the 2005 season, went 13-1 and beat Ohio State 41-14 to win 2006 BCS national title.

Not convinced yet? Then consider these examples involving previous Tennessee teams:

- The Vols were hammered 42-17 by Nebraska in the Orange Bowl at the end of the 1997 season, then went 13-0 and won the national title in '98.

- The Big Orange lost 35-21 to Kansas State in the Cotton Bowl at the end of the 2000 season but went 11-2 in 2001 and would've played for the national title except for an upset loss to LSU in the SEC Championship Game.

- Tennessee was trounced 30-3 by Maryland in the Peach Bowl at the end of the 2002 season but bounced back to go 10-3 and achieve a No. 6 national ranking in 2003.

Just as a lopsided bowl loss does not guarantee future struggles, an imposing bowl win does not guarantee future success.

Consider these examples:

- The 1985 Vols trounced Miami 35-7 in the Sugar Bowl, then went 7-5 in 1986.

- The 2001 Vols crushed Michigan 45-17 in the Florida Citrus Bowl, then went 8-5 in 2002.

- The 2004 Vols routed Texas A&M 38-7 in the Cotton Bowl, then went 5-6 in 2005.

Tennessee players and fans alike had their swagger back after the 2009 Vols played Alabama and Florida off their feet on the road, finished with four wins in the last five regular-season games and earned a mid-level bowl bid. With Lane Kiffin about to reel in a second consecutive top-10 recruiting class, there is plenty of cause for optimism.

One bowl loss - ugly as it was - doesn't change that.


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