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